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Protesters In Guatemala Set Fire To Congress In Response To Controversial Budget Plan

Like so many other countries across Latin America, Guatemala is just the latest to see a massive outpouring of anger against the ruling party. Over the weekend, massive protests took place in the nation’s capital in response to a proposed budget that would of actually cut much needed funding for the country’s Covid-19 response while increasing funds for government officials.

Protesters were largely peaceful as they chanted and waved the Guatemalan flag in front of the National Congress but as riot police moved in, the situation intensified.

As a result, the controversial budget has been withdrawn from consideration and the country’s Vice President has suggested that he and the president both resign for the benefit of Guatemala.

Protesters took to the streets demanding a proposed budget be withdrawn.

Over the weekend, protesters marched in Guatemala’s capital to demand the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei, who played a key role in passing the controversial 2021 national budget.

Although the march started out peacefully, it turned violent as riot police entered the city’s main plaza to disperse more than 10,000 protesters in front of the National Palace. Protesters set fire to part of Congress, although the extent of the damage isn’t yet known.

However, police have been accused of using excessive force as videos show flames coming out of a window in the legislative building. Police fired teargas at protesters, and about a dozen people were reported injured.

Discontent had been building on social media even before the controversial budget was passed in secret last week. Protesters were also upset by recent moves by the supreme court and attorney general they saw as attempts to undermine the fight against corruption.

Vice President Guillermo Castillo has offered to resign, telling Giammattei that both men should step down “for the good of the country.” He also suggested vetoing the approved budget, firing government officials and reaching out more to various sectors around the country.

The nation’s Congress was set on fire by protesters and police used excessive force.

Credit: Luis Echeverría / Getty Images

As protesters were confronted by police, some set fire to the Congress. Although the amount of damage to the building remains unclear, the flames appear to have affected legislative offices, rather than the main hall of the monumental building.

President Giammattei condemned the fires using his Twitter account on Saturday.

“Anyone who is proven to have participated in the criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law,” he said. He added that he defended people’s right to protest, “but neither can we allow people to vandalize public or private property.”

Police resorted to excessive force against protesters and targeted them with tear gas and batons, attacking not only the 1,000 demonstrators at congress but also a much larger, peaceful protest outside of the National Palace.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has condemned what it called an “excessive use of force” by police in Guatemala against demonstrators

The IACHR wrote on Twitter on Sunday that it “condemns the excessive use of force by authorities against demonstrators” but also asked for an investigation into “the acts of vandalism against Congress, after which State agents indiscriminately suppressed the protest.”

The proposed budget did little to help those struggling amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

The weekend’s protests were part of a growing movement against President Gaimmattei and the legislature for approving a budget largely in secret. The budget, which was approved last week, actually cut much needed funding for education and health while increasing by $65,000 the funding for meals for lawmakers. It also cut funding for Coronavirus patients and human rights agencies.

“We are outraged by poverty, injustice, the way they have stolen the public’s money,” said psychology professor Rosa de Chavarría in a statement to Al Jazeera.

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