In Brazil the informal economy has an enormous volume. There is an estimate that says that Brazil has some 30 million ambulantes and camelôs (street stall vendors and door-to-door salesmen) which are occupying and walking the streets to sell their goods. They are an important and often a welcome part of the economic life of the Brazilian household.
They distribute goods and services, offering consumers a convenient and cheap option. They are also a vital part of the social and economic life of a city, and tourists usually see them as part of the enjoyment of an authentic experience, the “coleur local”.
Last year, the informal or so-called underground economy in Brazil generated around BRL 663billion (330billion USD) in 2010. Calculations show that the informal activities of the shadow economy represented around 18.3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) last year, a percentage close to that recorded in 2009 (18.5%) and in 2008 (18.7%).
The word “camelô” is borrowed from the French “camelot”, meaning “merchant of low-quality goods”. The difference between camelôs and so-called “ambulantes” is that camelôs have fixed “street stalls” on a particular sidewalk, whereas “ambulantes” sell their wares throughout an area, walking the streets and knocking at doors.
However colourful, the street stalls are vanishing from the city centres. More and more local authorities like to take them from the streets in an attempt to clean the city centres. And it is true. Sometimes, and too often, a concentration of street stalls looks like a landfill. But the movement is inerasable, and therefore the municipal authorities arrange for locations, something like small shopping malls, from which the camelôs can operate.
Many street vendors sell their own home-made products, mainly snacks and cakes. In Belém, as example, each Sunday we have a so called “feira artesanal”, where everybody can sell his/hers home-made products. You see beautiful chocolate bonbons, cakes, and all types of sweet and salty snacks, even home-made children toys, utensils and useless ornaments and accessories are on offer. A beautiful a colourful market, often frustrated by stalls with cheap imported Chinese stuff.
And that’s why law enforcement often enters into conflict – often physical – with camelôs, for selling low-quality products (imported from Asia, and smuggled via Paraguay), making improper use of public space (blocking sidewalks and pedestrian traffic), not paying any taxes, and in conflict with health regulations. Their presence is considered a “pain-in-the-ass”, but also a result of the alarming rise in unemployment and the disinterest of the local authorities to solve the real problems.
But there is one place where the stalls and ambulantes (often legalised by the local authorities) are still very active, accepted and always welcomed. That’s the beach during the holiday seasons. The beach vendors are very colourful people and add something special to the relaxed atmosphere of the beach.
I took the beach of Boa Viagem in Recife as an example.
Praia de Boa Viagem is the most famous beach of the city of Recife, the capital of the federal state of Pernambuco. The beach is some seven white sand kilometres long, with coconut palms and a green ocean with natural swimming pools between the barrier reefs.
Boa Viagem is bounded by the Pina Beach on one side and the beach of Piedade at the other. Most of Boa Viagem beach is protected by a natural barrier reef, which gave the city of Recife its name.
Due to the presence of sharks near the beach, diving and snorkelling are only allowed in areas protected by the natural reefs. Surfing is prohibited.