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Bolivia threatens to fire protesting soldiers

April 23, 2014

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Despite a government threat to fire them, some 500 soldiers marched in Bolivia’s capital Wednesday for a second consecutive day to demand greater upward mobility within the armed forces.

Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra said armed forces officials wouldn’t meet with the protesters because “there are regular channels for demands to be met and those who violate the rules must bear the consequences.”

Saavedra said military leaders are evaluating whether to punish the soldiers and added that only 8 percent of the country’s 9,666 enlisted men and sergeants are taking part in the protest.

Minutes after he spoke, about 500 soldiers paraded in uniform through downtown La Paz until they were in front of Air Force Command headquarters, where they shouted: “Evo soldado, listen to your people!” — a reference to President Evo Morales.

Some wives of the protesting soldiers yelled: “We want to decolonize the armed forces! Enough of classes and discrimination, the generals are dictators!”

Protesters say the military discriminates against indigenous Bolivians.

Saavedra denied that discrimination exists in the armed forces, saying the institution has changed.

Enlisted men are demanding changes so that non-commissioned officers in Bolivia’s military may study to become career officers. They are also demanding the release of four protest leaders fired Monday and say they want more medical benefits on a par with officers.

The latest march followed a similar demonstration Tuesday, when protesting soldiers jogged through the streets of La Paz.