Hundreds of protesters broke into the Guatemalan Congress and burned part of the building amid growing demonstrations against President Alejandro Giammattei and the legislature to approve a budget that reduced education and health spending.
The incident on Saturday came when approx. 10,000 people protested in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City against corruption and the budget, as protesters say, was negotiated and passed by lawmakers in secret, while the Central American country was distracted by the fallout from behind-the-scenes hurricanes and the Covid-1
About 1,000 protesters demonstrated outside the convention building.
Video on social media showed flames coming out of a window in the legislative building. Police fired tea gas against demonstrators, and about a dozen people were reported injured.
“We are furious at poverty, injustice and the way they have stolen public money,” said Rosa de Chavarría, a professor of psychology.
“I feel that the future is being stolen from us. We do not see any changes. This can not continue 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 legislative offices rather than the convention hall. Protesters also set bus stations on fire.
Giammattei condemned the incidents via Twitter on Saturday, saying: “Anyone who has been shown to have participated in the criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law.”
He said he defended people’s right to protest, “but we can not let people vandalize public or private property either”.
The president said he had met with various groups to present changes to the controversial budget.
Dissatisfaction had built up on social media over the 2021 budget, and clashes erupted during demonstrations Friday. Guatemalans became angry because lawmakers approved $ 65,000 to pay for meals for themselves, but cut funding for coronavirus patients and human rights agencies.
Protesters were also upset by the recent moves by the Supreme Court and Attorney General, which they saw as an attempt to undermine the fight against corruption.
Vice President Guillermo Castillo has offered to resign, telling Giammattei that both men should resign their positions “for the benefit of the country”. He also proposed vetoing the approved budget, firing officials and extending more to different sectors around the country.
Giammattei had not publicly reacted to this proposal, and Castillo did not share the president’s reaction to his proposal. Castillo said he would not resign alone.
The spending plan was negotiated in secret and approved by Congress before dawn on Wednesday. It also went while the country was recovering from Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which brought heavy rains to much of Central America.
The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Guatemala on Friday called on Giammattei to veto the budget.
“It was an unfortunate blow to the people because Guatemala was between natural disasters, signs of government corruption, clientelism in humanitarian aid,” said Jordan Rodas, the country’s human rights prosecutor.
He said the budget seemed to favor ministries that have historically been hotspots for corruption.
In 2015, mass protests 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 in various corruption cases.