Retired and active police officers from Buenos Aires Province demonstrated in La Plata on Monday night to demand urgent salary increases and more protection from the novel coronavirus.
Despite a surge of Covid-19 infections in Argentina in recent weeks, police officers took to the streets with their families, with most rallying outside Governor Axel Kicillof’s official residence in La Plata, the provincial capital. Other protests took place in cities across Buenos Aires Province, the nation’s most populous region.
Following on from the demo, additional rallies supporting the call took place in other locations on Tuesday, such as Lomas de Zamora, Florencio Varela, Merlo, Berazategui, Quilmes and Almirante Brown. A large group also gathered in front of a strategic command centre in La Matanza, at the intersection of the Riccheri highway and Camino de Cintura (Bridge 12), where hours earlier provincial government officials had held a press conference.
Most demonstrators are calling for urgent improvements to be made to their salaries, though complaints over the lack of suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) for working police officers are also dominant.
"Internal complaints have been coming for six months, every day there are cases of infected personnel, [and] no-one listens to us, there is no isolation of close contacts" or those who work and live with officers infected with Covid-19, said Luis Tonil, the president of the provincial police’s ombudsperson's office.
Tonil, who is also a serving officer, told Radio La Red in an interview that the police force is "on the front lines" of the battle against Covid-19 in Argentina, complaining that officers were not being supplied with alcohol hand gel nor protective gloves.
Many of those demonstrating on Monday also complained of a “growing disparity" between the salaries of provincial police offices and those who work in Buenos Aires City. According to the protesters, some officers receive salaries of just 34,000 pesos (about US$430) a month, a figure that has been eaten into strongly by soaring inflation. Demonstrators on Tuesday in La Matanza complained they earn the equivalent of 40 pesos an hour.
On Tuesday, Adriana Rearte, the general secretary of the Federation of Police and Penitentiary Unions (FASIPP), published a video on social networks saying that officers needed “psychological support” as well as financial assistance.
“Listen to your people, read the petition, do not tighten the rope any more,” she warned, before going on to reference famed police revolts that affected 21 of the country's 23 provinces.
“We must not forget what happened in 2013, everything got out of hand.”
Faced with the threat some officers would abandon their posts in protest, provincial government officials said over the weekend that they would grant “an important salary improvement" to officers, though an amount was not specified.
An official announcement is anticipated on Thursday or Friday.
Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni said that “10 days ago we were talking about recompensating salaries, but the important thing is to ratify the intention to improve working conditions."
Governor Kicillof’s Cabinet Chief, Carlos Bianco, acknowledged Monday that there had been a "delay [in salary rises] of 30 percent between 2016 and 2019."
The protest came just a few days after President Alberto Fernández announced a new anti-crime plan for places in the province the towns that are suffering from insecurity. According to the announcement, thousands of operatives will be deployed along with the release of funds totalling some US$480 million.
Crime and insecurity regularly tops the list of concerns for Argentines in polling, in some cases even topping fears over the economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.
President Fernández’s new plan foresees, along with other measures, the deployment of 3,957 troops to trouble spots, the training of 10,000 new police officers over the next 18 months and the supply of 2,200 new police vehicles.
So far, close to half a million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and more than 10,100 deaths have been reported in Argentina.