Hundreds of protesters take over the Guatemalan Congress and set it on fire

Hundreds of protesters have taken over the Guatemalan Congress this Saturday and have set fire to several offices until they were evicted by the security forces and fire departments, who have put out the fire. The protesters, mostly hooded, have broken the entrance door to Parliament and also the windows, and then throw fire torches inside. The deputies were not in the hemicycle. According to a preliminary report by the Guatemalan authorities, at least 22 people have been detained and another 20 have been slightly injured.

The demonstration was called against what in Guatemala is known as “The Corrupt Pact”, an alliance between politicians, a sector of the private sector and the drug trafficking mafias that was at the center of the country’s power until the resignation of the President Otto Pérez Molina, in 2015, amid corruption accusations that precipitated his arrest. The pact regained prominence this Saturday after Congress approved a budget that, in addition to not meeting the needs of the population, was clearly intended to satisfy the particular interests of the mafias in power.

An unrealistic budget for a country like Guatemala: 1.7 billion quetzals [unos 218 millones de dólares] that privilege the particular interests of politicians over the needs of the population. Thus, while legislators were prescribing hundreds of millions for items such as food for legislators or the construction of a new building, they reduced the budget for hospitals, education or that of the Human Rights or Constitutional Ombudsman, the only two counterpowers that the government has yet to co-opt.

The same vice president of Guatemala, Guillermo Castillo, asked President Giammattei on Friday night that both resign from office and that they leave the country in the hands of “a board of notables”, until Congress names their successors. The president, far from listening to his second, tried to defend the approved budget without presenting solid arguments. In this context, the democratic sectors of the country called a massive demonstration for this Saturday, not without warning of the danger of possible pickets by infiltrators aimed at taking away the legitimacy of the citizen protest with violent acts.

In statements to EL PAÍS, the Attorney for Human Rights, Jordán Rodas, supports this thesis. “It is unfortunate that infiltrated groups, with their fanatical attitude, tarnish a beautiful citizen feat,” he said about the incidents this Saturday.

Rodas adds that the approval of the budget is just the icing on the cake. “The erratic way in the treatment of the pandemic, added to the doubts in which a multimillion-dollar budget has been handled for its fight and growing corruption scandals influenced the massive demonstration this Saturday,” he closes.

The analyst Manfredo Marroquín, from Transparency International, agrees with this perception. “What happened this Saturday is nothing more than a sample of the boredom of the population, desperate to be governed by mafias entrenched in the three powers of the State.”

Ten months after the start of his term, Marroquín considers, the Giammattei government is almost finished. “I think his management has been very compromised. Corruption has been the common thread throughout his administration. The budget thing is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. The discontent is so strong. What the population wants is a profound change. No more mafias in the Government ”, he concludes.

Faced with the protests, Giammattei recalled that there is a right to demonstrate in the country, but that “he will not allow” public or private property to be vandalized. “Whoever is proven his participation in these criminal acts will fall under the full weight of the law,” he wrote in a message on his Twitter account.

I reiterate that you have the right to demonstrate according to the law. But neither can we allow it to vandalize with public or private property. Whoever is proven his participation in these criminal acts will fall the full weight of the law.

For about 10 minutes, amid the chaos, protesters have managed to set fire to a part of Congress and also destroy what they found around them. Later they have been evicted with tear gas canisters by the National Civil Police. Fire brigades have already arrived at the scene to put out the fire. At the moment the damage caused is not known.

The seizure of Congress for a few minutes has taken place in the middle of a demonstration agreed for this Saturday by artists, groups and dozens of entities, with the aim of rejecting the State budget for 2021, approved by Parliament, in its majority ruling party, and presented by the Government of Alejandro Giammattei.

Thus, while hundreds of protesters took over Congress, thousands of other Guatemalans were peacefully demonstrating against Giammattei just one kilometer away in front of the National Palace of Culture (seat of the Government).

The protests against the Executive have originated after the approval of the budget last Wednesday at dawn. On Friday night, after Giammattei endorsed the budget, his vice president, Guillermo Castillo, assured at a press conference that the country is not “well” and urged Giammattei to resign together to “oxygenate” the nation. Central American.

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