Bolivia’s military leaders have ordered the dismissal of 702 enlisted men for sedition, after they protested that they should have the option to qualify to be raised to the rank of officer, claiming they were subjected to discrimination for being indigenous citizens.
The army, navy and air force said in a statement on Thursday that they had ordered the dismissal of the soldiers because they “committed acts of sedition, rebellion, conducted political actions and attacked the honour of the Armed Forces,” the AP news agency reported.
It cannot be that they dismiss our brothers for demanding their rights. We will expand the protest if they are not reinstituted
The unprecedented military protest began on Tuesday with 500 soldiers, but expanded to about 1,000 on Thursday.
Non-commissioned officers and sergeants marched through the capital of La Paz dressed in camouflage uniforms, together with some of their wives and Aymara indigenous leaders who supported their demands.
Protesters say the military discriminates against indigenous Bolivians, an accusation denied by defence officials.
The protesters are demanding changes so that non-commissioned officers in the military may study to become career officers.
They are also demanding the release of four protest leaders fired on Monday and say they want more medical benefits on a par with officers.
“It cannot be that they dismiss our brothers for demanding their rights. We will expand the protest if they are not reinstituted,” said indigenous leader Samuel Coarite.
On Wednesday, Defence Minister Ruben Saavedra said the situation in Bolivia’s armed forces is changing and that in 2015 enlisted men and sergeants will be able to receive scholarships to study the same as officers.
The protesters had asked to meet with President Evo Morales, but the Aymara president has not spoken publicly about the demonstrations.