Bolivia Claims Police Riots Are Conspiracy, Ignoring Corruption Issue

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The Bolivian government has claimed that police protests over salaries are aimed at fomenting political unrest, ignoring the larger issue that better paid officers are less likely to be corrupted by organized crime.

On Sunday morning at 5 a.m., the government and representatives of national police body Anssclapol signed a deal after eight hours of negotiations. At the center of the police’s demands is higher pay — on average, a member of the force makes $194 a month, compared to $300 a month for army sergeants. The agreement gave them an extra 220 bolivianos ($30), a little higher than the offer of 200 bolivianos they rejected last week

Police officers in eight cities across the country have ignored the agreement and continued protests, defying the order of police commander Victor Santos Maldonado. Demonstrators were seen burning copies of the agreement, and the protesters have increased the number of demands from four to 21.

The government of Evo Morales has accused political opponents of using the protests to foment a coup. Interior Minister Carlos Romero claimed that the protesters received a message to “clean out” the current government. The intelligence services warned of a plan to force members of the police to reject the agreement, in the hopes that the police movement would unite with indigenous groups protesting against the construction of a road through their Amazonian homeland.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Morales administration’s attempts to link the protests to a supposed conspiracy against the government ignore the larger, institutional issues facing Bolivia’s police.

In early 2011, the country’s former top anti-drug official was arrested in Panama and extradited to the United States on charges of drug trafficking. Other members of Bolivia’s Special Force Against Narcotics have also been accused of being involved in the scheme. The head of the national police was fired in the fallout, while his two successors also fell amid corruption allegations The new police chief is the seventh in the past six years.

Despite attempts to purge the force, such scandals have undermined the police’s credibility. A recent report indicated that 85 percent of crime in cities goes unreported, likely due to a lack of faith in the local police. Vigilante justice, including lynchings of suspected criminals by ordinary citizens, has taken hold throughout the country.

Increased pay for these striking police officers could help alleviate corruption. As Bolivia plays an increasing role in the transcontinental drug trade, public confidence in the police is important for combating organized crime.

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