A military rebellion in Bolivia has diminished the nation’s armed forces by hundreds after military leaders dismissed 702 soldiers for what they deemed “sedition.” The military officers have been protesting what they consider unfair working conditions and insufficient health and promotional resources for their soldiers.
In a statement released this Thursday, military leaders officially accused the soldiers of “sedition, mutiny, engaging in political action, and attempting to violate the dignity and honor of the armed forces in a collective fashion.” Infobae notes that thirteen other military personnel were dismissed last Tuesday for similar actions.
The soldiers have been protesting against what they allege is discrimination against indigenous Bolivian soldiers. The multi-tiered military system, they argue, limits the ability of those of lesser means who enlist in the military to receive the appropriate education to be promoted to higher rankings, creating a second upper class of high-ranking white soldiers. Indigenous officers are calling for the ability to attend the elite schools from which top officers graduate, thus diversifying the population of the military. Many view this step as integral to the full “decolonization” of Bolivia, a trope that President Evo Morales has long used in campaigning.
The BBC adds that the soldiers are also demanding better healthcare opportunities and housing. The protesters, who numbered at about one thousand at a protest Tuesday, have said they believe a conversation with President Evo Morales, himself an indigenous Bolivian, could best help them articulate their concerns.
President Morales has been less than receptive to the troops’ concerns. “If there is no discipline, there is no armed forces for Bolivia,” he said at a speech in the nation’s capital, La Paz, according to The New York Times.
Morales, a far-left ally of fellow socialist Latin American leaders Nicolás Maduro, Cristina Fernández, and Rafael Correa–of Venezuela, Argentina, and Ecuador, respectively–faces presidential elections in October. A number of political concerns have hurt him as a candidate. Though still a frontrunner, polls show his support dropping from a peak 45.7% to 38.3% this week. President Morales has insisted in recent times that Bolivia is much more technologically and economically advanced than many experts believe, including a claim that the nation is “close” to developing peaceful nuclear energy.
Morales rose to prominence thanks to a movement of indigenous political leaders and activists and maintains most of his support within that population. Ignoring the concerns of indigenous soldiers, then, could significantly damage his reputation among his key constituency.