LA PAZ – Bolivia’s government decided to deploy the military to patrol the streets in the absence of police officers, who remained off the job to press their demands for a salary hike, the Defense Ministry said Saturday.
A communique from the ministry said the armed forces will strengthen security in several cities “in order to safeguard the welfare and safety of the population.”
According to the same source, Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra announced that the Military Police has doubled the number of troops patrolling the main cities of the nation to prevent attacks on private property and excessive drinking of alcohol over the San Juan holidays.
“To carry out this mission the army has increased the number of troops protecting the citizenry by 25 percent; the areas they will be responsible for safeguarding in Bolivian territory will be doubled,” the note said.
Rank-and-file police launched the mutiny Thursday to demand that President Evo Morales raise their pay scale to bring it in line with that of the armed forces.
Police officers said they earn $178 a month, while a soldier of equal rank is paid double.
Bolivia, one of the poorest nations in Latin America, has a statutory minimum salary of $144 a month, while median pay in 2011 was around $546 monthly.
The police uprising was at its worst when hundreds of cops and their wives sacked a building that housed the police intelligence division and disciplinary tribunal, setting files, computers and furniture on fire and destroying doors and windows.
The Military Police marched Friday to take over Murillo Plaza where the presidential palace and Congress are located, while the streets of La Paz were left without police protection or traffic control, prompting banks and many stores to close early.
The government and police leaders had a preliminary meeting that lasted until the wee hours with no positive results, though another attempt will be made to initiate a dialogue.