On Saturday, over ten thousand people protested against the Guatemalan government and the current president Alejandro Giammattei.
Some protesters in Guatemala City stormed the Congress building and set it on fire. Protesters also set up a guillotine outside of the Congress building.
The protests were reportedly sparked by cuts in the 2021 budget.
In the streets, Guatemalan protesters raised flags and signs declaring “Giammattei, resign.”
Protesters demanded that Giammattei veto the budget. The budget was approved as the region was hit by Hurricane Iota.
The new budget of 99.7 billion quetzals, the equivalent of $12.9 billion, will increase the public debt while cutting funding for healthcare, education, human rights, and the justice system, which sparked outrage among the general population.
Among the most controversial aspects of the budget was that the politicians allotted tens of thousands of dollars for their own meals, while cutting funding to human rights agencies and coronavirus patients.
“Congress allocated more money for their meals and didn’t allocate money to the poor people,” 25-year-old student Diego Herrera told Reuters.
Most of the protests to take place at the main square of the city were peaceful, but there were breakaway groups that smashed the windows of the Congress building and set it on fire.
Angry protesters stormed #Guatemala's Congress building and set it on fire during a protest to demand the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei, following the approval of a budget cutting educational and health. pic.twitter.com/9a7Urw0sel
— th1an1 (@th1an1) November 21, 2020
Police reportedly used tear gas on the protesters, according to a spokeswoman for San Juan de Dios General Hospital, who treated multiple injured protesters.
She said that the hospital was treating 14 people for multiple injuries and tear gas poisoning. Meanwhile, police have said that they arrested 22 people.
Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, urged investigations into the arrests, after social media videos showed evidence of police brutality.
“Multiple complaints of mistreatment, excessive use of force, indiscriminate use of tear gas by the Guatemalan police,” she wrote on Twitter.
President Giammattei publicly responded to the protests on Friday, holding a televised press conference reassuring the public about the budget. By Saturday, when the protests had grown out of control, Giammattei made a Twitter post promising to make changes to the budget.
Meanwhile, the president faces opposition from within his own administration.
His own vice president Guillermo Castillo, initially opposed the budget plan and is calling on him to step down. Castillo has also offered to step down from his position along with the president, so he would not be the next in line for power, but Castillo has said that he will not resign alone.
Giammattei has been in office for less than a year, and his short time as president has been defined by the pandemic, a struggling economy, and two very serious hurricanes.
Guatemala is located in Central America, along the borders of Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. It is the most populous country in Central America, with an estimated population of around 17.2 million.
$64K of this budget was used for the Congress’ personal benefit being stolen by very corrupt politics. Guatemala has been battling hunger and poverty especially during the pandemic. Stand in solidarity 💙👆🏻 No more corruption pic.twitter.com/coNW6YGWd3
— Alexandra Tyggum (@ATyggum) November 23, 2020
— Sandra Cuffe (@Sandra_Cuffe) November 21, 2020
Earlier this year, protesters in Lebanon set the country’s central bank headquarters on fire, Anonymous News reported. Protests took place in multiple Lebanese cities this summer in response to a steep crash in the pound currency, which had lost about 70% of its value in the previous 6 months.