Antigua, Guatemala – Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Guatemala’s capital on Saturday and set fire to the nation’s Congress building, showing anger over the budget bill passed this week that slashed funding for health care and education.
The demonstrations in Guatemala City, which also included peaceful rallies in the central square, rocked a nation still recovering. Back to back hurricanes that Thousands of people are displacedAnd destroyed homes Obliterate critical infrastructure. As torrential rains brought on by the second storm hit impoverished towns in Guatemala’s highlands and coastal regions on Wednesday, the nation’s Congress passed a budget that cuts spending on education and health in favor of increasing lawmakers ’meal salaries.
The bill, which also proposed cutting funding to combat malnutrition and cutting funding for the judiciary, sparked immediate outrage and led to nationwide demonstrations.
Videos posted on social media showed that a group of protesters kicked the windows of the Congress building and set a fire that lit fires rising from the entrance. According to local news reports, police officers sprayed tear gas at the protesters, and firefighters quickly put out the fire.
On Twitter, the President of Guatemala, Alejandro Giamatti, condemned the arson. “We cannot allow public and private property to be destroyed,” he said He said in a tweetAdding that the perpetrators of “criminal acts” “will be punished with the full force of law.” In an effort to appease the protesters, the president also said in a previous press release that he was reviewing potential budget adjustments.
But frustration with Mr Giamatti’s leadership has also reached the highest levels of his government.
On Friday, Vice President Guillermo Castillo said at a press conference that he had “had very little contact with the president” and offered to resign, but only if Mr Giamatti resigned with him. Mr. Giamatti did not respond to Mr. Castillo’s comments.
Protesters in Antigua, a city about an hour’s drive west of the capital, said they were outraged by the rampant corruption that has long spread throughout their government. last year, Former President Jimmy Morales ousted a UN-backed commission That was aggressively investigating high-profile graft cases. The move was widely criticized as an attempt to protect officials accused of misusing public office for their personal enrichment.
“I am upset that the country is still growing in debt and things are not changing,” said Maria Vega, a 42-year-old teacher who brought her two sons to the protest in Antigua. “We have endured a lot over the past few months and the fact that health and education is not a priority is frustrating.”
And pictures on social media showed in Guatemala City, people carrying banners saying “No President, No Congress” represented them and calling on all lawmakers to resign. A giant mouse rises above the central square in the capital, with the name of the president written on it. Religious groups, including the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, have joined the cacophony of voices calling for Mr. Giamatti to veto the budget.
“The lack of clarity with which Congress has approved the budget is the last straw for me,” said Antonio Doran, an engineer in Antigua. “The corruption that governments in Guatemala have shown has affected generations of people – and that is something we must stop.”
It was reported by Nick Wirts from Antigua and Guatemala and Natalie Kitrov from Mexico City.