Last straw: In protest of runaway government corruption, Guatemalans burn their Congress

by WorldTribune Staff, November 22, 2020

Angry protesters who say they have had enough of what they call a series of corrupt government policies broke into Guatemala’s Congress and burned part of the building on Saturday.

Protesters broke into Guatemala’s Congress and set it on fire. / Twitter

The protesters said the last straw was a move by President Alejandro Giammattei and the legislature approving in secret a controversial budget in which millions were cut for educational and health spending while lawmakers gave themselves extra money for meal allowances.

About 10,000 people protested in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City against corruption and the budget, “which protesters say was negotiated and passed by legislators in secret while the Central American country was distracted by the fallout of back-to-back hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic,” The Associated Press reported.

Journalist Sandra Cuffe noted on Twitter: “Today is not really about the budget bill. The budget bill was a match thrown onto a pool of fuel that has been gathering for years. There’s widespread rage directed at the current congress and president but also at political and business elites that transcend administrations. That said, certain aspects of the budget bill did trigger protests: the temporary axing of $25M re malnutrition, reducing the human rights ombudsman’s office budget by $2.5M, cutting the judiciary’s budget almost in half… and the bill’s passage at breakneck speed overnight.”

Video on social media showed flames shooting out a window in the legislative building. Police fired tear gas at protesters, and about a dozen people were reported injured.

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

Protesters were outraged that the spending plan was negotiated in secret on Tuesday and approved by the congress before dawn on Wednesday. It also passed while the country was distracted by the fallout of hurricanes Eta and Iota. The lawmakers also approved $65,000 to pay for meals for themselves.

“I feel like the future is being stolen from us. We don’t see any changes, this cannot continue like this,” said Mauricio Ramírez, a 20-year-old university student.

Giammattei condemned the protesters, tweeting: “Anyone who is proven to have participated in the criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law.”

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