Hundreds of Guatemalans set Parliament on fire on Saturday to protest the 2021 budget, as protesters demanded the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei.
Gigantic flames ravaged the interior of the building, whose facade was dotted with anti-government graffiti. The Red Cross has treated several people poisoned by smoke, according to a spokesperson for the organization, Andrés Lemus.
During the demonstration in front of Congress, the police arrested more than 20 people. “I was walking and they grabbed me, I did nothing, I have my constitutional right to strike,” shouted a protester escorted by two helmeted members of the police.
Nearly 50 people have been hospitalized for injuries, including one in serious condition.
The group that set fire to the building acted as a peaceful demonstration took place in front of the former government palace, in the historic center of the capital and near the Congress, to demand the resignation of the head of state, a 64-year-old doctor in power only since January.
Displaying blue and white flags of the country, the demonstrators waved banners adorned with the slogans “more corruption” or “Giammattei out”.
The police fired tear gas at the crowd in which children were panicked, according to images posted on social networks. Protesters threw stones at the police. A man was carried off on a stretcher with blood streaming down his face.
“Guatemala is crying blood, people have had enough of being trampled for more than 200 years,” complained a protester, who did not give his name and protects his face with a bandana.
“We are tired that there is no other way to show our refusal, our fed up, we are tired of so much abuse by the authorities,” cried another demonstrator.
On Twitter, President Giammattei denounced the attack on Congress and promised criminal penalties for those responsible. “I repeat that you have the right to demonstrate according to the law. But we cannot allow the vandalism of public or private property, ”he said.
Protesters accuse the president in particular of having endorsed the controversial budget of nearly $ 13 billion, the largest in the country’s history.
The vice president wants to resign
Unhappy Guatemalans also denounce the opacity of resources to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic or the creation of a post of super-minister assigned to a young person close to the president.
On the night of Friday to Saturday, Guatemala’s vice president himself, Guillermo Castillo, had urged President Giammattei to resign with him.
Parliament, mostly made up of members of the ruling party and related parties, this week approved a much contested budget.
Economic entities and analysts have warned of the risk that a third of the budget will be financed by debt, as proposed.
In addition, most of the funds go to infrastructure run by entrepreneurs and neglect the fight against poverty and child malnutrition, which has sparked protests.
Of the nearly 17 million inhabitants of Guatemala, more than 59% of the population lives in poverty, and child malnutrition affects almost half of children under five.
Congress approved more than $ 3.8 billion in loans to deal with the pandemic of coronavirus, although less than 15% of these resources have been invested.
The management of the crisis caused by the pandemic has been severely criticized by political opponents and sectors of society, denouncing in particular deficiencies in hospitals.
According to official data, the country has recorded 118,417 infections and 4,074 deaths from COVID-19.