Hundreds of Guatemalans partially burned the congress building on Saturday in a protest demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei, following the implementation of a budget that has sparked outrage in the poor Central American nation.
The flames in the legislative building could be seen from the street in Guatemala City, and a spokesman for the Red Cross told reporters that the group had treated several people for smoke inhalation.
The police arrested more than 20 people and almost 50 were sent to hospital injured, one of them in serious condition.
A separate, peaceful protest took place in front of the old government palace in the historic center of the capital, not far from the congress, and also called on Giammattei to resign.
With the national flag and banners reading “No more corruption”, “Giammattei out” and “They were moving with the wrong generation”, protesters filled the central square of Guatemala City in front of the old palace.
In a tweet, Giammattei condemned the attack on Congress and promised legal consequences.
“I reiterate that you have the right to demonstrate under the law. But we can not allow vandalism of public or private property,” he wrote.
“Anyone who has been proven to have participated in these criminal acts falls under the full weight of the law.”
Reitero that has the right to manifest in accordance with the law. But we can also allow ourselves to be vandalized with public or private property. If the participant tests his participation in these delinquent acts, he will take care of the whole piece.
– Alejandro Giammattei (@DrGiammattei) November 21, 2020
The widespread dissatisfaction and indignation in Guatemala against the Giammattei administration and Congress is caused by a lack of resources to fight the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the new budget.
The Guatemalan Congress, which is dominated by conservative governing parties, this week approved a budget of nearly $ 13 billion, the largest in the country’s history.
Most of the funds go to infrastructure linked to large companies, which causes outrage in a country where poverty is widespread and half of the children under the age of five are malnourished.
Analysts have also warned that a third of the budget will need to be financed with debt.
The country’s Congress has also approved $ 3.8 billion to fight the coronavirus pandemic, but less than 15 percent of those funds have been invested.
Giammattei’s vice president said Friday night that he had asked the president to resign with him.
“For the good of the country, I asked him to present our departures together,” Guillermo Castillo said in a statement posted on social media.
He also reportedly told the president that “things are not right” and acknowledged tensions between him and the head of state.
Giammattei, a 64-year-old doctor, swept to power in January and vowed to clean up corruption and fight organized crime.
But his presidency has been dominated by controversy over his handling of coronavirus, especially deficiencies in the country’s hospitals.
He has also saved publicly with his vice president, who in May revealed that the two had clashed privately over the best response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to official data, 118,417 people have been infected with the coronavirus and 4074 have died.