Bolivia: Tensions Rise as Police Mutiny Continues

A police mutiny is into its sixth day in Bolivia as low-ranked policemen are demanding, among other things, levelling up their wages to the same amount military officers currently earn. Public figures showed a difference of up to 40% in these two wages.

Protests escalated and the tension increased on Thursday June 21, 2012, when police unionists and the wives of the low-ranked policemen broke in and took control of the UTOP (Tactic Police Operations Unit), a unit a few blocks away from the Presidential Palace in La Paz.

According to local media [es], towards midday on June 21, 13 officers were expelled from the UTOP premises, and tear gas grenades were used. Low-ranked policemen not dressed in uniform then took control of the UTOP and later distributed guns and ammunition.

Journalist Miroslava Fernandez (@kiske_one) reported via her Twitter account [es]:

Policias vestidos de civiles toman la UTOP, armamento es tomado, y cmdte anuncia salir y dejar que ‪#MotinPolicial‬ tome el lugar.

Plainclothes police officers take UTOP, armament is taken and Commander announces leaving and letting the police mutiny take over the place.

This clash marked the beginning of the mutiny.

Journalist and blogger Boris Miranda gathered and shared a footage of the first hours of the mutiny:

The low-ranked police forces’ list of demands includes four key points: levelling wages, retiring with 100% of rent, a new Law for internal affairs, and the creation of the police ombudsman.

By the evening of June 21, violent demonstrations and mutinies spread out in eight out of the nine regions of the country.

Moreover, as Santa Cruz based blogger Eduardo Bowles commented on his blog [es], the context in which the mutiny takes place is highly conflicting:

La protesta policial, que ha llegado a límites nunca vistos, con uniformados atacando sus propias guarniciones y sacando a patadas a sus superiores, no es un hecho aislado. Se produce cuando está por llegar a la sede de Gobierno la marcha de los pueblos indígenas que tratan de proteger el Tipnis de las ambiciones desmedidas de las nuevas élites nacionales; surge cuando un senador se mantiene cautivo de los caprichos de las autoridades, que se niegan a aceptar el asilo político que Brasil le ha concedido; estalla cuando hay tres parlamentarios haciendo una vigilia en una oficina de la ONU, cuando hay varios presos políticos que hacen huelga en la cárcel de San Pedro, cuando hay cocaleros bloqueando caminos, cuando grupos de mineros se atacan a dinamitazos, cuando acaban de asesinar a otra concejal en el Beni […]. El motín policial llega en el momento de mayor hastío de la población frente a los abusos cometidos por un régimen que ha desilusionado por completo a las grandes mayorías que le dieron su apoyo para cambiar el país, pero de otra forma.

This police protest, which has reached limits never seen before, with officers attacking their own garrisons and kicking out their superiors, is not an isolated event. This also happens when the indigenous march attempting to protect the TIPNIS from the ambitious new elites is about to arrive to La Paz, the Seat of Government; it emerges when a Senate member remains held up as Bolivian authorities fail to accept the political asylum given by Brazil. [The same thing happens] when there are three members of parliament holding a vigil at a UN office, when there are a number of political detainees under strike in a La Paz prison, when there are coca growers blocking roads, when miners attack each other using dynamite, when a local Council Member has been recently murdered […]. This police mutiny arrives during a peak of disgust in the population, due to the abuses committed by a government who has disillusioned the great majority who supported him to change the country, but in a different way.

A day after, on Friday, June 22, while government authorities and unionist continued negotiating the demands, mutinied policemen broke into the Internal Affairs, Disciplinary Tribunal and Intelligence offices, damaging the premises and burning documentation and computers.

At that time, government officials spoke on national media denouncing that a coup d'etat was underway. Andrés Gómez (@AndrsGomezV), a journalist based in La Paz, stressed via Twitter [es]:

Y un detalle a tuiteros del exterior, no hay golpe de estado de derecha en Bolivia, es un‪#motínpolicial por malas condiciones económicas

And a detail for Twitter users abroad, there is no right-wing coup d'etat in Bolivia, it is a police mutiny due to bad economic conditions.

As updated previously on Global Voices, by Thursday afternoon the hashtag #motinpolicial [es] (“police mutiny”) on Twitter began gathering citizen reporting and reactions to the mutiny.

Negotiations over the four-point demand continued over the weekend, which coincided with the traditional festivity of San Juan.

On the evening of Sunday, June 24, an agreement led by Minister of Interior Carlos Romero was reached between the government and representatives of Anssclapol, the National Association of Non-commissioned Officers, Sargents, and Policemen.

However, the agreement was rejected by mutinied policemen and further demonstrations took place on Monday, June 25, this time at Murillo square in La Paz, right in front of the Presidential Palace. Meanwhile, government officials in La Paz continued accusing the policemen of attempting a coup, something that has been repeatedly rejected by mutineers.

The representatives of the mutinied policemen also announced an updated list of demands, stressing that the increase in wages is a must and that bonuses are not accepted. The new demands also include an additional point: no retaliation for mutineers.

A new round of negotiations is underway while Bolivia's cities remain without guard or police assistance for the sixth day.

Cecilia Lanza (@majabarata), a Twitter user based in La Paz, comments through her account [es]:

Me gustaría pensar que #motinpolicial sea, por fin, rebelión de la Policía contra su propia corrupción. Salarios dignos a cambio d un cambio

I would like to think that the police mutiny, is finally a police rebellion against their own corruption. Decent wages in exchange for change.

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