Hundreds of protesters stormed Guatemala’s congress and burned part of the building amid mounting demonstrations against President Alejandro Giammattei and the legislature for passing a budget that cut spending on education and health.
Saturday’s incident occurred when some 10,000 people protested in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City against corruption and the budget, which according to protesters was negotiated and approved by lawmakers in secret while the Central American country was distracted by the aftermath of the back. consecutive hurricanes and the Covid-19 pandemic.
About 1,000 protesters were demonstrating in front of the Congress building.
A video on social media showed flames coming out of a window in the legislative building. The police fired tea gas at the protesters and around a dozen people were reportedly injured.
“We are outraged by the poverty, the injustice, the way they have stolen money from the public,” said Rosa de Chavarría, a psychology professor.
“I feel like the future is being stolen from us. We don’t see any change. This cannot go on like this, ”added Mauricio Ramírez, a 20-year-old university student.
The amount of damage to the building was unclear, but the fire appears to have affected the legislative offices rather than the main congress hall. The protesters also set bus stations on fire.
Giammattei condemned the incidents via Twitter on Saturday, saying: “Anyone found to have participated in the criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law.”
He said he defended the right of people to protest, “but we cannot allow people to destroy public or private property.”
The president said he had been meeting with various groups to present changes to the controversial budget.
Discontent had been piling up on social media over the 2021 budget and clashes erupted during Friday’s demonstrations. Guatemalans were angry that lawmakers approved $ 65,000 to pay for their meals, but cut funding for coronavirus patients and human rights agencies.
Protesters were also upset by recent actions by the supreme court and attorney general that they saw as attempts to undermine the fight against corruption.
The vice president, Guillermo Castillo, has offered to resign and has told Giammattei that both must resign from their positions “for the good of the country.” He also suggested vetoing the approved budget, firing government officials and reaching out more to various sectors of the country.
Giammattei had not publicly responded to that proposal and Castillo did not share the president’s reaction to his proposal. Castillo said he would not resign alone.
The spending plan was secretly negotiated and approved by Congress before dawn Wednesday. It also happened as the country recovered from hurricanes Eta and Iota, which brought torrential rains to much of Central America.
The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Guatemala asked Giammattei on Friday to cut the budget.
“It was a torturous blow for the people because Guatemala was between natural disasters, there are signs of government corruption, patronage in humanitarian aid,” said Jordan Rodas, the country’s human rights prosecutor.
He said the budget seemed to favor ministries that have historically been hotbeds of corruption.
In 2015, massive protests in the streets against corruption led to the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina, his Vice President, Roxana Baldetti, and members of his cabinet. The former president and Baldetti are in jail awaiting trial for several corruption cases.
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