LA PAZ – Hundreds of rank and file Bolivian police mutinied on Thursday, occupying command centers in La Paz and in the central city of Cochabamba to press demands for higher pay.
Dozens of cops, some wearing ski masks, fired tear gas as they stormed the UTOP tactical headquarters in La Paz, which is located next to the Foreign Ministry and just a block away from Congress and the presidential palace.
The mutineers resorted to tear gas again when the provincial police commander, Col. Edward Barrientos, approached the UTOP command post in a bid to initiate a dialogue with the disgruntled officers.
In Cochabamba, officers declared a strike and a dozen or so police wives initiated a hunger strike outside the municipal headquarters.
The mutinous cops are demanding an increase to bring their base pay to a minimum of $301 a month.
They also want the $57.40 they currently receive each month in the form of a bonus to be incorporated into the base salary.
The mutiny was sparked by the interior ministry’s refusal to fuse the bonus with base pay, Javier Quispe, president of the Anssclapol union representing patrolmen and sergeants, told Radio Erbol.
The police feel betrayed because the ministry had previously indicated that the combination of the bonus and base pay was feasible, Quispe said.
The interior minister, Carlos Romero, called the mutiny “unjust” and said he was ready to meet with the unhappy officers, but not under threat.
Under President Evo Morales, who took office in early 2006, spending on compensation for Bolivia’s nearly 37,000 police personnel has increased 172 percent, the minister said.
Police have been receiving annual pay hikes that are above the rate of inflation, Romero said.
Lower-ranking cops mounted a similar uprising in 2012 in La Paz, setting patrol cars on fire and laying siege to government buildings.