The Men in Green

The police in Bolivia are not very popular thanks a reputation for being corrupt, lazy, incompetent and creating more problems than they solve. I’ve heard numerous stories of people having to pay them to investigate a crime, and even then they usually come up empty-handed.

Some may attribute these poor standards to their abysmal salaries of around US$200 per month. Bolivia is a very cheap country, but that amount is simply not enough to support a family, hence they turn to corruption. I suspect under payment is one factor, but there also appears to be an ingrained culture of entitlement and dishonesty.

A city without police

In June 2012, the FELCC went on strike which meant the entire city of La Paz was literally without a police force. To be honest, I was in La Paz at the time and hardly noticed any difference. The military patrolled streets enacting their own form of martial law, which basically meant standing around on street corners to make sure people weren’t looting.

During that period the crime rate actually went down. The strike finally ended when the police were given a 20% pay rise. Unfortunately, however, we are yet to see a 20% increase in efficiency.


Arrested for bribes

My girlfriend was arrested today for drinking alcohol in a public square next to her university. She took one sip of some premix which her classmates offered her to celebrate finishing exams. No one was being noisy, yelling or creating a nuisance. Nevertheless, the men in green rolled up, threw them all in a van and took them to a cop shop on the other end of town. They were held until friends or relatives were able to come and pay a bribe to get them out.

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2 Responses to The Men in Green


    Though it is a very sensitive subject and though most people are oblivious to reality there have been quite a few times when the police have gone on strike. One of said times was a particularly violent one on february 2004. Yes, there was a very tense situation across the country and specially in La Paz (it was Goni time after all) and the government was late to react, they first secured their own homes and families (lets remember here that most politician’s houses are guarded by the police) and then worried about the population. By the time they issued an order for the military to get out to the streets there were a lot (and I mean A LOT) of people looting at El Alto (first office down was the tranca at la ceja, and yes people there is a police module just in front and they just stood there and watched) and a whole lot of them then headed down to the center of La Paz.

    The military were quick to regain control and establish order back on the streets, minimum use of force was the norm but it was required to use some in the end. Later that february became known as “Febrero Rojo” (Red February) because the police took up arms (not all of it, certain groups and classes) against the government itself and encountered their “targets” guarded by the military. There were deaths, on both sides, and by the end of it the police deaths were heavily compensated because they were the demanding party and “won” the arguments… but who cared about the soldiers that gave their lives just so some politicians could keep theirs?

    The police got a raise, and a few other perks and the military commanders that followed orders got reprimanded if not punished for (yes, you’re reading this right) FOLLOWING ORDERS! Many were relieved from command or even received other harsher types of punishments, just because they did what they were supposed to do.

    Yes, the police are underpaid in general in this country and yes they should have better means of doing their job. But there are many faces to what happens inside that institution without even mentioning the rampant and uncontrolled corruption that reigns over any and all who are unfortunate enough to cross their path.

    The Police protect the people right? But really… who protects the people from the police? many a time they are more of a menace than crime on itself… they are usually better criminals than the ones behind bars.


    • An interesting story as always, thanks Gabriel. A former student told me of how he was stationed (as military) in El Palacio Quemado during that time and said they were very close to a full on shoot out one day. Luckily some high up person managed to diffuse the situation. The event probably deserves its own post, which I’ll get round to one day.


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