We’ve all seen them, the long lines at the immigration office, the registry office (both, the property and civil), at the Caja, the driver’s licensing office. And at one time or another, we’ve all been in one of those lines.
That’s where the gavilanes comes in, they help us out, offering an impossible to obtain a spot, hold a spot to take a break or do more impotant things than waste time in line. Or just simply we get there too late, even if it’s like 5:00 am.
The gavilanes are our saviors. And this story is one gavilan who, at age 20, discovered that this was a good way to make a living after losing several jobs in plantations and factories. “Bad luck, anywhere I went to work, it ended up closing, so I started with this.”
Today, at 46 years of age, currently working the gold mine outside the Cosevi offices in La Uruca, San Jose, spoke to La Nacion reporter Angela Avalos.
The reforms to the Ley de Transito (Traffic Act) that went into force last July 17, empowered traffic officials (Transitos) to, in addition to issuing a fine, confiscate license plates of illegally parked vehicles, which has meant a booming business for the “gavilanes”.
After paying the fine, the process of recovering the plates is at the Cosevi offices. La Uruca office in San Jose is the busiest of all the Cosevi offices around the country.
Here, every day, excluding weekends and legal holidays, the lines are long for the only. The employees inside can only process 200 requests.
“Are you the one?”, asked the man who arrived too late to get a ‘ficha’ (token) to recover his the plates after being seized by the traffic police for illegal parking.
“Yes, but today there are no more spaces, you have to come back on Monday,” was the response of our Gavilan on this Friday, with a voice of authority to his self-appointed ‘official’ function.
Our man says he can earn up to ¢75,000 colones on a good day. However, there are bad days, so bad that he literally goes home empty handed.
As he explained, “There are people who have my number and call me to save them a spot (in line). I charge ¢15,000 colones per spot.”
“When I see that people come accompanied, I get close, I make friends with them and when I have their confidence I propose that when they enter, they do not ask for a single token, they ask for two, and we are halfway,” explained the man on how he gets spots to sell.
He did not want to reveal his identity or allow pictures or videos to be taken.
The job has allowed him to put food on the table, keep a roof over his head, dress and send his two kids to school. He has been able to travel to Jamaica and soon will be visiting Cuba.
He doesn’t consider what he does illegal or immoral. “Would it not be worse if I took to the streets to steal or kill people?” he said in an attempt to get ahead of the question.
“I am doing nothing wrong. I do not look for people. People are looking for me,” he said.
“On good days, like Mondays, I can make up to ¢75,000 colones,” he said.
Why Mondays? Everyday people from all over fight over the 200 spots. “Monday is the best day, I arrive at 10 Sunday night, I put a chair at the entrance and start saving spots.”
“People arrive desperate, they are taking time off work to be here and want to waste as little time as possible, they see me as a way out (of the long wait),” he says.
Of course, there are bad days, days when he goes home empty-handed, literally.
But those days are few. He is always up front, one of the first. He sets up shop a few hours ahead of opening time, prepared for the chilling morning air and afternoon rain and takes advantage of people asking him to save their spot.
Our man learned his craft from the old days at the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes (MOPT), in Plaza Víquez, on the south side of San Jose, when a personal visit was the only way to obtain or renew a drivers license.
Although in La Uruca, the lines are smaller (well, were smaller until a few weeks ago) our man says there was always enough to make a living.
But with the confiscation of plates for bad parking, the ‘earning a living’ converted to ‘a gold mine.’
Our man assures that he (or any of the others) have a deal with anyone working ‘inside’ or those working ‘outside’, ie the security guards.
“People say we have an arrangement with those in the offices, but that is not true,” explaining that the way of doing business varies. “Sometimes, there are people who, even if they have a token, get tired of waiting and leave, they ‘give away’ their token. And he, neither slow nor lazy, moves in ready to receive and is always near the gate (on the outside), and asks, if there is anyone in need of a spot, for he has one available.