Guatemala’s Congress up in flames, protests over 2021 budget

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Protest at Guatemalan National Congress Building, [November 21, 2020]

By Caribbean News Global Caribbean News Global fav Guatemala's Congress up in flames, protests over 2021 budget

GUATEMALA CITY – Thousands of people on Saturday staged the biggest protest yet against Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, with some setting fire to Congress, fuelled by anger over cuts in the 2021 budget just as the country reels from back to back storms, as reported by Reuters.

At 99.7 billion quetzals ($12.9 billion), the budget increased public debt while cutting funding for healthcare, education, human rights and the justice system, outraging people from students to business leaders in a year marked by the economic crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Congress allocated more money for their meals and didn’t allocate money to the poor people,” said Diego Herrera, 25, a student.

While most protesters assembled peacefully at the main square, others smashed the windows of the Congress building and set fire to the interior, sending columns of orange flames rippling out, social media and Reuters images show. A cloud of grey smoke could be seen blocks away.

The secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS) in a statement Sunday said it supports the efforts of the government of Guatemala for an inclusive dialogue that facilitates understanding among all sectors of national life.

“We consider that this is essential to ensure the institutional strengthening of the country, especially in the necessary independence of the judicial and electoral powers. In this sense, with regard to the budget for 2021, it must ensure the maximum commitments of the government and Congress to guarantee transparency, accountability and the highest standards in the fight against corruption, understanding the fight against child malnutrition as a priority.

Likewise, the political will to promote spaces for citizen understanding in times of such complexity due to the aforementioned issue, COVID-19, recent natural disasters and other problems that are difficult to treat for any government is highlighted. The OAS will continue to be attentive to provide the support that is required,” said the statement from the OAS general-secretariat on the political situation in Guatemala.

Regarding the demonstrations, OAS general-secretariat said that there is a right to protest, which must be absolutely guaranteed, but there is no right to vandalism.

“The governance and stability of the country must be ensured. The governments of “notables” that have not been elected by the people are essentially undemocratic and undemocratizing. The mandates granted by the people in democratic elections must be respected, that is the meaning of democracy. Likewise, governance does not imply impunity, but quite the contrary, it must be reaffirmed by absolutely clear patterns of fighting corruption,” the OAS statement concluded.

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