Q24N – Hundreds of Guatemalans burned Congress headquarters on Saturday in protest at the approval of the budget for 2021, the highest in the country’s history, and called for the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei for endorsing it.
The flames in the Legislative Palace were evident from the street and the Red Cross treated several people for intoxication, a spokesman for this institution, Andrés Lemus, told reporters.
Unidentified people set fire to furniture and some offices, but firefighters extinguished the flames, the Prensa Libre reported.
In addition, the National Police dispersed the protesters with tear gas.
President Giammattei promised to apply “the full weight of the law” to those who are “proven” their involvement in “criminal acts,” he wrote in a tweet.
The group of protesters who set fire to the building contrasted with another peaceful protest in front of the old government palace, in the historic center of the capital and close to Congress, where the protesters demanded the president’s resignation.
Carrying the country’s blue and white flags and banners with slogans such as “No more corruption,” “Giammattei out,” and “They messed with the wrong generation,” protesters filled the central square in front of the former government headquarters.
Cause of discontent
The discontent and indignation of the citizens against the Congress and the government is caused by the opacity of resources to face the new coronavirus pandemic, by the creation of a super-ministry – for which a young man close to the president was appointed – and by the budget for next year.
Congress, mostly made up of the ruling party, this week approved the largest budget in the country’s history – almost US$12.8 billion -, an increase of about 25%.
Most of the funds are directed to infrastructures with the private sector and it does not foresee an increase in health or education funds, nor those destined to combat poverty and child malnutrition.
59.3% of Guatemala’s population of almost 17 million lives in poverty and child malnutrition affects almost 50% of children under five years of age.
In addition to the protests it has generated, several economic entities and analysts warn that it is a risk that a third of the budget is financed by debt, as approved.
Additionally, Congress approved loans for more than US$3.8 billion to attend the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus, although only less than 15% of those resources have been granted.