GUATEMALA CITY (AP) – Hundreds of protesters broke into Guatemala’s Congress and burned part of the building on Saturday amid growing demonstrations against President Alejandro Giammattei and the legislature to approve a budget that reduced education and health spending.
The protest came as about 7,000 people demonstrated in front of Guatemala City National Palace against the budget, which protesters say was negotiated and passed by lawmakers in secret, while the Central American country was distracted by the fallout from back-to-back hurricanes and COVID-19 pandemic.
Video on social media showed flames shooting out of a window in the legislative building. According to media reports, security agents fired tear gas at protesters and injured people.
Giammattei condemned fires in his Twitter account on Saturday.
“Anyone who is proven to have participated in the criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law.”
The president said he had met with various groups to present changes to the controversial budget.
Dissatisfaction had built up over the 2021 budget on social media, 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.
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 attempts at more outreach to various 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 Wednesday. It also went on while the country was distracted by the fallout of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which brought heavy rains to much of Central America.
The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Guatemala also called on Giammattei to veto the budget on Friday.
“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.