Bolivia sacked 702 members of the military Thursday in a quick, firm response to a march by non-commissioned officers protesting alleged discrimination against indigenous members.
The commander of the armed forces, General Victor Baldivieso, likened the protest to sedition aimed at staging a coup.
The military acted after about 2,000 sergeants from all services turned out for the protest in uniform and singing marching songs as they paraded through downtown La Paz.
The protest was set off by the sacking of 13 non-commissioned officers on Monday for refusing to obey orders and for mutiny.
But the strikers’ grievances extend to treatment of the mainly Aymara and Quechua non-commissioned officers by higher-ups.
Among their demands were changes in rules that block non-commissioned officers from promotion beyond the rank of sergeant, or entry to training institutes.
“We are not against the government,” said Johnny Gil, head of an association of non-commissioned officers.
“We are against this system, this capitalistic, neo-liberal, colonial model within the military.”
The association said the military should respect a new constitution promulgated by President Evo Morales, himself an Aymara and Bolivia’s first president representing the country’s indigenous majority. The constitution guarantees racial and gender equality in the poor South American nation.
The association called an open-ended strike on Monday and convened street protests.
Bolivia’s 38,000 strong armed forces have about 10,000 non-commissioned officers.