As protests spread, Argentine government yields to police forces demands
The Argentine police crisis in demand for higher salaries and better working conditions and which prompted protests and further lootings in several provinces last week and during the weekend rapidly spread on Monday to other districts.
Even when wage agreements have been reached in several of the provinces in turmoil, other provincial forces joined the protests and in others officers seem to have lost control or are not obeyed by the rank and file. In at least half of Argentina's 24 provinces police forces are in conflict including Buenos Aires where 12 of the 40 million Argentines live.
Precisely in Buenos Aires province police forces from La Plata, Bahía Blanca and Mar del Plata insisted with their demands and have impeded normal activities, despite the warning of Governor Daniel Scioli and the announcement of salary hikes. There was minor looting incidents in several of these cities Sunday night and into Monday.
In Santa Fe, the fourth district in population in Argentina, police officers rejected the salary offer made by Governor Antonio Bonfatti.
The central government has dispatched an estimated 10.000 special gendarmerie forces to Cordoba, which triggered the current situation last week, Santa Fe, Catamarca, Entre Rios, among other places.
Protests have worsened in the province of Chaco, as police officers took over headquarters in the capital city of Resistencia, after lootings in supermarkets early Monday and after the provincial government announced it would seek aid from Gendarmerie.
The current cabinet chief of Cristina Fernandez government, is the governor of Chaco (on leave) and the police unrest started when he was at his province over the weekend.
Police forces are demanding a basic salary of between 10.000 and 13.000 Argentine Pesos, (approx 1.000 to 1.300 US dollars) matching what their colleagues from the Federal Police and the agreement reached in Cordoba delivered.
The police of the coastal city of Puerto Madryn, in the province of Chubut, was staging a protest although authorities had announced during the weekend a salary improvement.
In the province of Entre Rios, across from Uruguay, police forces stopped working in several cities and as happened in Cordoba, Rosario and Santa Fe gangs of looters riding motorbikes went after unprotected shops and stores. One looter died electrocuted and there were forty arrests.
Last week the central government's line repeatedly expressed by Cabinet chief Capitanihh was that these conflicts were the exclusive responsibility of provincial governments and they should not elude responsibilities by asking support from the federal government. This strong message was specifically targeted to Cordoba governor Manuel De la Sota, a declared antagonist of President Cristina Fernandez.
However as the situation rapidly expanded and spilt over to other provinces, including those friendly to the government, Capitanich has described the situation as an attempt to destabilize.
The strikers have also tried to downplay the impact of their protests before public opinion, pledging a minimum patrolling while the conflict, since the absence of police in Córdoba led to one death, 200 arrests and over 1.000 shops looted or torched. In several cases the police have had their families join the sit-ins.
Apparently the situation is under control or on the path to an understanding in Cordoba, Santa Fe, Catamarca (after shootouts with rubber bullets between Gendarmes and police strikers that had occupied the provincial house of Government), Rio Negro, La Rioja, Neuquen, San Juan, while the situation remains tense or with difficult negotiations in Tucuman, Corrientes, Jujuy, Chubut, San Luis, Chaco and Buenos Aires.
In many instances the negotiating officers have then to convince their peers of the favorable conditions of the agreement reached, which in a state of open protest and discussion is not necessarily easy.
In Mar del Plata, Argentina's main Atlantic resort, the local chamber of commerce recommended their members not to open their shops.
In one of his latest press conferences at Government House Cabinet Chief said the national government is “monitoring the situation in each Argentine province, with each provincial government and with each one in charge to generate mechanisms of social and civic protection” such as the “direct action” through the territorial intervention with Gendarmerie, Prefecture and Federal Police forces.”
Capitanich added the government is “dismayed” after these actions “which seek to generate chaos and uneasiness in the society” and called for “social peace, harmony and cohabitation” adding “this is not the method or the way” to demand wage hikes, rejecting “the extortion to the provincial governments.”
“The wage negotiations were executed in 2013 and there is an agenda for 2014,” Capitanich stressed. The cabinet chief also emphasized that “the Judiciary must do something before these events of vandalism”.