It was an accident that Argentina’s military police and coast guard had their pay cut by up to 70 percent, in what officials are calling an “administrative error,” but accident or not, it has led to mass strikes across the country among officers of the two divisions of the armed forces.
"The pay reduction was the result of a disastrous administrative action," said Juan Manuel Abal Medina, the cabinet chief of staff, Al Jazeera reported.
A decree eliminating additional compensation and benefits for ranking officers by 30 to 70 percent had erroneously been applied to all members of the military police and coast guard, according to Merco Press.
Both heads of the two divisions, who authorized the cuts, were fired and their top ten commanders forced into retirement.
Despite assurances from the government that the service members would receive their missing pay immediately, the striking officers have already taken the momentum of their collective action to demand wage increases and a repeal of Decree 1307, which affected officer compensation and benefits.
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The strikers are demanding a monthly salary increase from 3,400 pesos ($720) to $7,000 ($1,490) for all basic troops, and an expansion of the pension fund for retirees, which was reduced by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in 2003 in order to scale back military spending.
While the majority of officers are striking, they assured that basic coast guard and military police duties would continue.
“We support democracy. This is not a political uprising. It's nothing strange," military police officer Fernando Parodi said at a rally in Buenos Aires, the Buenos Aires Herald reported.
Under the current pension system, retired officers are paid roughly one-third to one-half of what active officers make, and with annual inflation running at 20 percent, the cost of living has become burdensome for many working Argentines, particularly for former service members.
Active officers still claim that their wages are not high enough, and wage strikes among other professions, such as teachers and airline workers, have become commonplace in tandem with rising commodity prices.
"We are workers, like any others, who need to support our families," Parodi said.
The officers are currently in negotiations with the secretaries of Security and Economy.
President Fernandez’s approval rating has suffered amid the country’s sputtering economy, sinking from 30 percent in August to 24 percent in September, Reuters reported. She began her second term a year ago with an approval rating of 64 percent.
Fernandez campaigned for re-election on further centralizing control of the economy and an expansion of social welfare programs, but inflation has soared as the Argentine economy suffers aftershocks from the European debt crisis and a drop in trade with neighboring Brazil.