BUENOS AIRES – Members of the Buenos Aires provincial police parked at least 50 patrol cars outside the official residence of Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez on Wednesday to dramatize demands for a pay raise.
The president has no control over the provincial police and was not at the residence in Olivos, a suburb of the city of Buenos Aires, when the unprecedented protest took place.
The protesting cops showed up a few hours after a man was detained by security guards for hurling a Molotov cocktail at one of the protective barriers around the residence.
Fernandez commented on Wednesday on the intensifying mobilization by elements of the 90,000-strong BA force, which continues despite assurances from the provincial government that officers will soon receive an already planned salary increase.
“It is not ethical to exploit the moment of the pandemic to deepen the crisis and to demand things that are sometimes difficult to resolve,” Fernandez said during a visit to an industrial plant in Greater Buenos Aires.
“We argue very much for the necessities experienced by Buenos Aires province,” he said at a plant belonging to Quilmes, Argentina’s largest brewer.
Under the previous government, Fernandez said, the flow of federal funds to the province declined despite an increase in population in a region that is home to more than a third of Argentina’s nearly 45 million people.
“And that is not resolved hiding in patrol cars running sirens, that is resolved talking directly. And the national government will not be distracted, the national government will face this problem with the governor, as we do every day,” Fernandez said at the Quilmes plant, where he was accompanied by provincial Gov. Axel Kicillof.
Wednesday marked the second time this week that representatives of the police rejected proposals from the Kicillof administration to settle the dispute.
“It is a legitimate demand, will acknowledge that and so we have been working on the salary adjustment in the framework of the comprehensive plan” for the force, Kicillof, a political ally of the president, said earlier this week.
During a rally Wednesday morning outside the force’s headquarters in the capital suburb of La Matanza, one distraught police officer climbed to the top of a power pylon, apparently intending to jump.
Colleagues and families tried to talk him into coming down before another officer climbed up with a harness to bring him back to safety.
The police are demanding a pay hike ranging from 56 percent to 64 percent, depending on rank and seniority, as well as the right to unionize.
While the protests have taken place across the province, the largest have been in La Matanza and La Plata, the provincial capital, roughly 58 kilometers (35 miles) from Buenos Aires city.
Besides more money, the police are asking the force to provide them with personal protective equipment amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 7,000 members of the force have contracted COVID-19 and 10 have died from the illness, provincial Security Minister Sergio Berni said.
While the provincial police have long been underpaid compared with their counterparts in the Federal Police and the Buenos Aires municipal force, the situation has become acute due to the pandemic, Argentine daily Pagina 12 reports.
The suspension of professional soccer left members of the provincial police without the overtime pay they typically received for providing security at matches, the newspaper notes.
On a more sinister note, according to Pagina 12, the economic effects of COVID-19 restrictions have eliminated income that corrupt cops got in the form of payoffs for overlooking illegal activities such as prostitution and the sale of counterfeit products.