Hundreds of Guatemalans on Saturday partly burned the Congress building in a protest demanding the resignation of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, following the passage of a budget that has sparked outrage in the impoverished 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 journalists that the group had treated several people for smoke inhalation.
Police arrested more than 20 people and almost 50 were sent to hospital injured, one of them in a 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 Congress, also urging Giammattei to resign.
Carrying the national flag and banners that said “No more corruption,” “Giammattei out,” and “They messed with the wrong generation,” the protesters filled the central square in Guatemala City in front of the old palace.
Giammattei on Twitter denounced the attack on Congress and vowed legal repercussions.
“I reiterate that you have the right to demonstrate according to the law. But we cannot allow vandalism of public or private property,” he wrote. “Whoever is proven to have participated in these criminal acts will fall under the full weight of the law.”
The widespread discontent and indignation in Guatemala against Giammattei’s administration and Congress are caused by a lack of resources for battling the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the new budget.
Congress, dominated by conservative pro-government parties, last week approved an almost US$13 billion budget, the largest in the country’s history.
Most of the funds are to go to infrastructure tied to big business, sparking outrage in a country where poverty is widespread and half of children under five years old are malnourished.
Analysts have also said that one-third of the budget would need to be financed by debt.
Congress has also approved US$3.8 billion to fight the pandemic, but less than 15 percent of those funds have been invested.
Guatemalan Vice President Guillermo Castillo on Friday night said that he had asked the president to resign with him.
“For the good of the country, I asked him that we present our resignations together,” Castillo said in a message posted on social media.
He also reportedly told the president that “things are not right,” and admitted to tensions between himself and the head of state.
Giammattei, a 64-year-old doctor, swept to power in January promising to clean up corruption and fight organized crime.
However, his presidency has been dominated by controversy over his handling of the pandemic, particularly deficiencies in the country’s hospitals.
He has also publicly sparred with his vice president, who in May revealed that the two had privately clashed over the best response to the novel coronavirus.
According to official data, 118,417 people have been infected by the virus in Guatemala, and 4,074 have died.
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