The police presence outside the Bolivian presidential palace isn’t there to ensure President Evo Morales’ safety today.
Sectors of the Bolivian police entered the sixth day of a strike today as their leaders negotiate a salary increase with the Morales government. Over the past week protesting rank and file officers sacked police buildings around the country and confronted government supporters outside the president's offices in the Andean city of La Paz.
On Sunday, President Morales claimed right-wing forces had infiltrated the police protest in an attempt to set the stage for a coup. That's a powerful word in Bolivia – and Latin America – today, as memories of protests by Ecuadorian police in 2010 and the Paraguayan Senate's removal of President Fernando Lugo last week loom large in the national consciousness. However, police protest leaders roundly deny any plans to precipitate a coup.
Their key demand is a basic salary raise of about 30 percent to nearly $300 a month, which would bring police salaries in line with those of armed forces. Though life in most cities across the country has been unaffected, the situation in Plaza Murillo in La Paz is tense, as officers wearing masks and wielding stakes dominate the area.
Adding to these tensions is the impending arrival of more than a thousand indigenous marchers protesting a government-planned road that would cut through the National Park and Indigenous Territory Isiboro Secure (TIPNIS).
The march, which has covered more than 300 miles, is the second in less than a year by indigenous people from Bolivia's eastern lowlands heading to the square where the presidential palace is located. Leaders planned to enter the Plaza Murillo today, but put off their arrival because the police strike currently dominates the city. The Morales administration has also accused the indigenous march of seeking to destabilize the government. Marchers deny that charge and say they want a firm commitment from the government that the road will not cut through the national park, and respect for their communal lands.
So far the army has not been called on to intervene in the police strike. That's a relief to many Bolivians who remember February of 2003, when the army and police entered into a violent clash that left more than 30 people dead. For now, La Paz remains watchful, as residents wait for the result of the police negotiations and the arrival of the march.