Published October 04, 2012
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Thousands of coast guard and border patrol officers are keeping up their wage protests in Argentina despite government promises to address their salary demands.
The officers say they won't back down until they see their wage hikes in writing.
The vision of armed officers massing in the streets is deeply frightening to Argentines who lived through a military dictatorship, and politicians of every stripe have condemned the protests. But the officers say this is nothing like a military coup and they'll go back to work as soon as promises are met.
So far, the protests have been kept up with off-duty officers and their normal patrols have continued without interruption. But some are calling for their fellow officers to abandon their positions.
"We're going to camp out. We have asked everyone to come join us, to leave their posts," officer Raul Maza said Thursday as he led a rally outside the border patrol's headquarters. "We're not making the situation worse; that's what the security ministry did."
The problem is that many have been paid extras on the side, and others won court judgments giving them far higher salaries than their fellow officers.
The Supreme Court has ordered the government to fix this, making sure equal ranks get roughly equal pay. A government decree was published last month to make it so, specifically ordering that no rank-and-file officer should suffer losses in income. But suffer they did — some found this month's paychecks had dropped by 40 percent, prompting the wage protests.
Now the officers want everyone's pay rounded up, rather than see the lucky few get paid less like all the rest. Also, they don't want to pay taxes on the part of their income they used to get on the side, tax-free.
Unwinding this mess for thousands of members of the military will take time, and meanwhile the officers are adding more demands, such as more health care choices, a new base salary of about $1,500 a month and guarantees that they won't face reprimands.
Wednesday night, Security Minister Nilda Garre replaced the coast guard and border patrol chiefs and sent the next 10 ranking commanders of each service into early retirement. Thanks to court orders, many of these officers were earning far more than their ranks entitled them to — as much as $19,900 a month — much of it undeclared to tax authorities, according to a report in the pro-government Pagina12 newspaper.