Guatemalan protesters call for president to resign

Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets on Thursday, setting fires and blocking roads in the Central American country, to demand the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei after the resignation of a well-known anti-corruption prosecutor.

Protests have accelerated since Guatemala’s Attorney General Maria Porras last week removed anti-graft fighter Juan Francisco Sandoval as head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI), an action condemned by Washington. .

Sandoval, who fled Guatemala over the weekend, said he was fired after the attorney general prevented him from investigating corruption cases with ties to Giammattei. The president denies involvement in corruption.

In an interview with a local television station last weekend, Porras said she always acted transparently. “(Sandoval) has been exercising selective justice ever since he tried to persecute people of opposing ideology,” she said.

In Guatemala City, a crowd of thousands marched from the presidential palace to the attorney general’s office holding placards reading “Giammattei, Resign.”

Protesters set fire to tires and threw paint over police officers deployed to protect government buildings.

“Today we are in front of the presidential palace, but a president does not live here: a traitor does,” said Samuel Pérez, an opposition MP who joined the protesters.

By 5 p.m. local time (2100 GMT), the number of protesters began to dwindle as the remaining protesters camped peacefully in front of the National Palace of Culture, an imposing museum building that also houses some of the president’s offices.

The demonstrations in Guatemala City were part of a national strike called by indigenous leaders, social groups and student organizations to demand the resignation of Giammattei and Porras.

The latest protests point to growing internal frustrations in Guatemala over corruption and the dismantling of the independence of the judiciary. In 2015, waves of such anti-corruption demonstrations caused the downfall of then-President Otto Perez Molina.

On Thursday, protesters in the impoverished country of 17 million people blocked traffic at major intersections and marched with banners calling for the departure of the president-elected two years ago.

“We are here to tell the president that we do not recognize him as president because he no longer represents the interests of our country,” said Martín Toc, an indigenous leader from Tonicapán, western Guatemala.

Since he fled, Sandoval has told several media outlets that the president was linked to an incident last year in which 122 million quetzals, equivalent to more than $15 million, were found in suitcases at the home of a former infrastructure minister.

Sandoval also said he was investigating how unidentified businessmen from Russia allegedly delivered bags of cash to the president at a meeting at his home, an event, he said, that was somehow related to the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

Giammattei this week strongly denied all allegations, adding that the allegations involving the businessmen were “false remarks bordering on slander and slander”.

US suspends cooperation

The United States, which strongly condemned Sandoval’s resignation, said Tuesday it was suspending cooperation with Guatemala’s attorney general as it seeks to put pressure on Central American governments to end impunity. .

The administration of US President Joe Biden has made the fight against corruption a central part of its strategy towards the region as it seeks to tackle the root causes of illegal migration to the United States, which has increased this year.

In a statement shared on Twitter on Thursday, Giammettei said the US decision to suspend support for the attorney general was “counterproductive” in the fight against organized crime and corruption.

US Special Envoy to the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga, who was asked about Giammattei’s comments, told reporters in Washington that Sandoval’s resignation had cast serious doubts on Guatemala’s commitment to fighting corruption.

“We made it very clear in our response that we had lost confidence in the Attorney General,” he said.

While police guarding government buildings confronted protesters in the capital, no incidents of violence were reported.

Thursday’s demonstrations came after hundreds of Guatemalans protested outside the presidential palace on Saturday after Sandoval’s resignation.

Giammattei’s government also faced protests last November when a group of protesters set fire to the Congress building over cuts to education and health care in the 2021 budget. Days later, Congress withdrew the budget.

(REUTERS)

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