Police in Bolivia have rejected a pay deal between the government and the unions and recommitted to a mutiny that has seen the military deployed on the streets to keep the peace.
The government of leftist President Evo Morales has accused the striking police of setting the stage for a possible coup attempt by stockpiling weapons and pressuring other units to turn over their arms.
Carlos Romero, Bolivia’s interior minister, announced overnight that the government had signed a deal on new salary terms and that officers had agreed to end their mutiny in key cities.
“Our dialogue with the police has ended and we were able to reach sound agreements in order to overcome this police crisis that has taken place in recent days,” Romero said.
“I want to say to our colleagues that we must restore [law-enforcement] services, with the commitment that we must provide quality service and professionalism,” Sergeant Edgar Ramos, a police union representative, said.
Within hours any such deal appeared to be falling apart.
“We reject the deal and we are carrying on with the mutiny,” a non-identified officer told a public meeting in La Paz, before a march by some 300 police past the gates of the heavily guarded presidential palace.
“Police mutiny! Police mutiny!” they chanted, while any officials and employees found in police stations across the capital were being turfed out by strike supporters, accused of not joining the movement.
Police in other major cities like Potosi, Cochabamba and Beni had also rejected the deal, which would have seen pay packages boosted by 220 bolivianos ($32) a month, the Catholic radio Fides reported.
Refusing to budge from their demand for a minimum pay rise to 2,000 bolivianos ($287), from the current average of $195 a month, police in La Paz denounced union leaders for caving in to the government.
“The leaders are traitors, they are salesmen for the government,” one uniformed officer shouted, refusing to be identified because he said he feared government repression. Many of the mutineers wore hoods.
Their demands also include full pay upon retirement, a police ombudsman, and the overturning of a law that bans them from publicly expressing their opinions.
In addition, demonstrators are calling for the resignation of the national police chief, Colonel Victor Maldonado.
Ruben Saavedra, defence minister, announced on Saturday that the military was deploying more troops onto the streets to protect private property and ensure public order.
“The military police will redouble their personnel in the main cities of the country, with patrols and guards in the streets, to avoid excesses against private property,” Saavedra said in a statement.
Sergeant Javier Quispe, a spokesman for the striking police, denied any plans for a coup, calling it a “total lie.”
“We want to tell the public it’s not like that. This is a just demand for a fair salary,” Quispe said.
The mutiny began on Thursday when protesters took over the headquarters of the country’s riot police and eight other police stations. It then spread to more than two dozen police stations and command centres across the country.
A crowd of some 300 striking police, dressed in civilian clothes and covering their faces, attacked on Friday the National Intelligence Directorate, smashing windows, pulling out furniture, documents and computers, and even setting flags ablaze.
Roughly 300 protesters later hurled rocks and smashed windows at national police headquarters. Police on duty outside the building offered no resistance.