Hundreds of protesters protesting against Guatemalan lawmakers decided to approve a controversial budget that cut spending on education and health, broke into the country’s congressional building on Saturday and set some of it on fire.
Video on social media showed large flames shooting out of a window of the legislative building in Guatemala City as police used tear gas on protesters.
“We are furious about poverty, injustice and the way they have stolen public money,” Rosa de Chavarria, a psychology professor, told The Associated Press.
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Dissatisfaction had built up over the 2021
About 10,000 people hit the streets in front of the National Palace during the day Saturday to protest corruption and a budget that they say was negotiated and passed by lawmakers in secret.
The spending plan was approved before dawn on 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.
“I want the future to be stolen from us. We see no changes, this can not continue like this,” said Mauricio Ramírez, a 20-year-old university student.
The fire inside the congress building initially appeared to have affected legislative offices rather than the main hall of Congress. Protesters also set some bus stations on fire.
President Alejandro Giammattei condemned fires on Twitter.
“Anyone who has been found to have participated in the criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law.” He wrote that he defended the right of people to protest, “but we can not let people ravage public or private property either. “
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Protesters were also upset by the recent moves by the country’s Supreme Court and lawyer, 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 “for the benefit of the country.” Castillo also proposed vetoing the approved budget, firing officials and attempting more outreach to various sectors around the country.
Castillo said he would not resign alone.
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Guatemalan Catholic Church leaders also 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.