See São Paulo - 24/08/2011
The scene is common in galleries and stalls scattered around the city streets and impresses with the speed and ease with which it occurs. All of a sudden, shelves full of cell phones, bags, glasses and a plethora of trinkets - all counterfeit, smuggled or stolen - are emptied, with their goods confiscated by teams of inspectors. After a few days, however, as if by magic, the stores are again crowded, in the same place where they used to be, right under the beards of those who should inspect them.
Tired of wiping ice without being able to solve the problem, the city government put in place an unprecedented plan of combat. It created a coordinated attack that brings together municipal agents, the Federal Revenue Service, the Federal Police, the Public Ministry, the Civil Police and representatives of some of the companies most affected by counterfeiting. This new strategy of repression began at the end of last year and is centralized by the municipal secretary of Urban Security, Edsom Ortega.
So far, 22 surprise actions have been carried out, in which teams inspect, apprehend articles and ban points of sale in the main agglomerations of pirated products in the capital. The balance is a record number of 26 million items collected, in an amount equivalent to 1,3 billion reais. "Operations will continue for much longer, until the issue is resolved," promises Ortega. "We are not going to back down."
If the disposition is really carried forward, it will be a historic change in behavior. This type of trade took root in São Paulo, like weed, after decades of omission by those responsible for curbing it. Many politicians, taking advantage of demagogy, even treated street vendors as victims of the system, arguing that they were unemployed and could not be prevented from working. This helped the thing get out of control, causing a huge chain of damage.
Per year, the sale of illegal items moves 30 billion reais in Greater São Paulo and prevents public coffers from collecting about 400 million reais in taxes, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service auditors. The merchants who pay the taxes and suffer from unfair competition, manufacturers of copied goods and all paulistanos also lose out. As if the sidewalks clogged with tents were not enough, the movement of buyers amid the mess promoted by street vendors creates a favorable environment for the action of bandits, increasing the rates of robbery and theft in these areas.
The most recent battlefield of the war for legality is in the East Zone, in the Brás neighborhood, where the Feira da Madrugada is located, one of the largest camelódromos in the country and the main warehouse for piracy in the city. It got its name due to the peak of movement, between 2 am and 5 am, when the muambeiros supply themselves more calmly and go on to resell the goods.
In a tangle of colored tents of Babylonian proportions, there were, according to the most recent survey by the city hall, precisely 4.111 tents operating, many offering crude imitations of designer launches, such as “Hugo Boss” underwear, for 4,50 reais, or “Victor bags. Hugo ”, for 21 reais. Everything, of course, a crude imitation. Many marreters get around on luxury cars. Depending on the location, a point of sale over there can cost 500.000 reais, almost the same value as a 250 square meter store in a more upscale location, such as the surroundings of Avenida Brigadeiro Luís Antônio, in Paraíso.
As amazing as the size of the fair is its absolute illegality. There is no business license, and the labyrinths where the points of sale are filled with trinkets are a serious threat to the safety of thousands of people who pass by daily. “Aside from the noise they promote, some traders even make clandestine light connections,” says Edson Piquera Mejias, president of the Association of Residents, Traders and Friends of Brás, Pari and Canindé.
It has been like this for at least six years, since the fair was created on a land belonging to the former Federal Railway Network (RFFSA), now assigned to the city hall. “One of the biggest obstacles to moralizing the piece has always been corruption,” says Secretary Ortega.
In March, one of the region's leaders, businessman Geraldo de Souza Amorim, sent a letter to Mayor Gilberto Kassab accusing PR politicians, including deputy Valdemar Costa Neto and former Transport Minister Alfredo Nascimento (who left office at beginning of July after allegations of corruption), to run a bribery scheme to allow street vendors to continue working there. The accused deny. The municipality's Public Prosecutor's Office and the Internal Affairs Office investigate the case.
The situation reached the point that the city hall sealed the place at the beginning of the month, starting a new work to register the street vendors. Disgusted, they flock to the entrance demanding that they go back to work. About thirty military policemen accompany the movement every day, trying to prevent the protests from taking shape and ending in confrontation. Twice, strips on Avenida do Estado were interdicted by marreters. Until the last Wednesday (17), the date for reopening the place remained uncertain.
Gathering street vendors in the same space was an alternative to combat the proliferation of stalls on the sidewalks. Two years ago, about 20.000 were scattered across the busiest spots in the city. Most of the street vendors who were unable to migrate to the Brás fair and tried to continue working without a license were swept off the streets. In places that were free of them, the incidence of thefts dropped to 60%.
Today, there are only 2.500 street vendors registered in the capital. The problem has diminished, but it is far from being solved. At the door of events such as music concerts or football games, they still focus on selling counterfeit T-shirts, caps, flags ...
The seizure of goods in recent months practically filled the shelves of the main warehouse of the Federal Revenue in São Paulo. The structures, about 10 meters high, gather all kinds of products seized in the city, including the galleries in the center - perfumes, beverage and cigarette boxes, tissue rolls, tires, electronics and parts of the electronics assembly line , Among other things. In the space of 21.000 square meters there are also trucks, buses, imported cars and even a helicopter. Items are retained until the investigation is over.
In the first half of this year alone, 193 tons of counterfeit pieces, worth 126 million reais, were destroyed at the Cumbica Airport in Guarulhos, one of the main entry points used by these criminals. “There was a lack of political will to face the problem,” says Edson Vismona, president of the National Forum against Piracy and Illegality, with 26 member companies. The entity assists in investigations and operations infrastructure.
The articles that escape inspection are later resold at points such as the 25 de Março galleries - not by chance, the region was chosen as one of the first targets of the authorities' actions. Very busy addresses such as Galeria Pagé, Shopping Mundo Oriental and Shopping 25 de Março had to close their doors until all the boxes were inspected and the objects without a note were collected. When they reopened, dozens of shelves were empty.
The intent of the city hall is to transform these places into outlets, where big brands can sell discounted products offline or with small defects. So far, however, no agreement has been made official. At the Pagé Gallery, the target of action in April, dozens of boxes are for rent.
Counterfeits of "RayBan" glasses (25 reais) and "Louis Vuitton" travel bags (85 reais) continue to be found easily, as well as original Victoria's Secret creams (25 reais) without invoice. They work as examples that constant repression and zero tolerance for this type of crime are essential if the battle for legality is to be truly won in São Paulo and the pirates sink for good.
The roles of those involved in the battle
Federal Police: 93 foreigners deported for selling illegal goods
Federal Revenue: 26 million seized items, worth 1,3 billion reais
City Hall: 7.200 points of sale inspected in 22 operations carried out
Private sector: Companies like Adidas and HP help with investigations and operations infrastructure