Provinces give in to police pay demands
Death toll from continuing lawlesness rises to at least four across the country
Outbreaks of looting have spread across Argentina as mobs take advantage of strikes by police who are demanding pay raises to match inflation. The national government has dispatched federal police to trouble spots and appealed for an end to what some officials are calling treason.
Police protests were reported in at least 13 provinces, with some reports claiming the unrest had spread to 18.
By last night, the death toll from the chaotic outbursts climbed to at least four as officers staged sit-ins at their stations. Many businesses were closed in fear of looting just weeks ahead of the December holidays, when Argentina’s simmering social conflicts have a history of exploding in the summer heat.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich described the crimes as premeditated acts by groups that want to generate chaos and anxiety on the eve of today’s 30th anniversary of the return to democracy.
“In some ways, this amounts to the crime of treason,” Capitanich told reporters. He said the national government is in continual contact with Argentina’s 23 governors and the Buenos Aires City mayor, and that any salary dispute must be resolved through negotiation, not extortion (See Page 4).
The government has sent federal police, Border Guard officers and other security forces to hotspots where people are arming themselves in fear of mobs.
Looting first broke out in Córdoba province last week, damaging hundreds of businesses and leaving two dead and more than a 100 people injured before the governor and police reached a deal that effectively doubles police salaries to 12,000 pesos a month — a move that many say encouraged other police forces throughout the country to call for the same remuneration.
The national government initially blamed the phenomenon on Córdoba’s dissident Peronist governor, José Manuel de la Sota, for not having seen a police conflict brewing.
But even close presidential allies have been hit since then as police earning base salaries of less than 6,000 pesos stage copy-cat strikes across Argentina. A third victim died that first night when his supermarket was set on fire as he defended it from a mob in Glew, in provincial Buenos Aires, where Governor Daniel Scioli appealed for calm.
Scioli’s leadership of the province was tested again yesterday after a dozen more stores were looted in Mar del Plata and hundreds of police gathered in a central square, rejecting his offer to raise entry-level salaries to what he called a “fair and reasonable” 8,570 pesos a month. The officers vowed to remain off the job until they get 12,500 pesos as a base salary.
With police in many provinces demanding a doubling of their pay, other public employees are watching closely.
Río Negro Governor Alberto Weretilneck settled his province’s 21-hour police strike by raising base salaries to 8,500 pesos, only to see health and sanitation workers walk off the job yesterday, demanding their own raises.
The worst violence on Sunday night was seen in Concordia, in Entre Ríos province, where 20 people were injured and a young man died electrocuted inside a looted store.
Entre Ríos Governor Sergio Urribarri rose police wages to a floor of 8,530 pesos, but vowed not to negotiate with Concordia’s protesting police, who at press time were on their way to lift the protest.
The governor said there had been no looting in the rest of the province.
Reactions ranged from appeasement to punishment. In San Juan, it was a mixture of both, as protests came to an end with a wage hike, but top-ranking police officials were sacked yesterday by acting Governor Sergio Uñac.
Last night, Uñac — who is filling in for José Luis Gioja during his recovery after a recent helicopter accident — fired Police Chief José Orlando Luna and his second-in-command Miguel Ángel Esquivel.
The same was likely to happen in Entre Ríos, local media reported.
Looting continued yesterday from northern Chaco province to Mar del Plata, south of the capital, where Mayor Gustavo Pulti asked that major businesses remain closed because messages posted on social networks were trying to provoke chaos.
Opportunist looters also struck in Jujuy, Mendoza and Tucumán, among other provinces. At press time, local newspaper El Tribuno reported one dead in the Jujuy city of Perico and said prosecutor Mónica Montalvetti was in charge of investigating the incident.
In Mendoza, provincial Security Secretary Carlos Aranda set up negotiations with police, but an offer was rejected.
In some areas of the province that surrounds Argentina’s capital, days without electricity following summer thunderstorms have contributed to the tense situation, Capitanich acknowledged.
Herald with DyN, Télam, AP