Guatemala City, Guatemala – Protesters set fire to the building of the Congress of Guatemala after the controversial budget bill boiled down to protracted crises and led to anti-government demonstrations.
From the presidential veto of the budget bill and the inquiry into corruption to the resignations of all branches of government and the Constituent Assembly, thousands have flocked to city and town squares across the country.
Carla Figueroa, a 51-year-old professional translator, told Al Jazeera at a rally in Guatemala City’s Central Plaza that 125 of the country’s 160 legislators had called for her resignation.
“It has nothing to do with any government – everything is the same,” Figurova said.
The Guatemalan Congress passed a budget bill on Tuesday night, raising lawmakers’ own stipend for meals and other expenses and reducing funding for human rights programs and the judiciary.
They reduced the m 25 million intended to combat malnutrition, provoking outrage across the country. The next amendment, which restored those funds, did nothing to reduce public anger.
While Congress passed the budget with tremendous speed in the capital, it was already devastated when tropical cyclone rains from central Iota passed through Central America earlier this month.
Thousands are in asylums, some of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 cases.
More than 100 indigenous villagers were buried in landslides in several areas after the storm, and subsistence crops were destroyed in vast areas of the country.
Guatemala has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world and hurricanes have increased hunger; For many, fundraising that affects malnutrition is the last straw.
Calls for protests have risen as President Alejandro Giammatte has been widely demanded to veto the budget bill.
When he did not do so, Vice President Guillermo Castillo said Friday that he had called on Ziamatte to join him in resigning for the good of the country.
Before the protests begin on Saturday, Ziamatte said he would meet with various sectors and present the proposed reforms in the budget in the coming days.
But that didn’t stop the shows. “I think this is just the beginning,” said Flory Salguro, 48, one of more than 1,000 people arriving at Guatemala City Plaza, just before the start of the protest.
Salguro said she wants Giammatte and the legislators who passed the budget bill to resign.
“We are tired of so many thefts. I do not want to live in a country where my children and my grandchildren are so indebted, ”she told Al Jazeera.
Four blocks away, on the way to the plaza, a university student-led march stopped and set up a guillotine outside the Congress building.
Police uniform, standing a few dozen people in general, young people climb the building, looked at the window, kicked and threw incendiary devices.
Fires and smoke billowed from the windows for several minutes as protesters smashed framed photographs of politicians. The riot police showed up, the crowd shed tears, and then firefighters arrived to put out the blaze.
We are tired of so many thefts. I do not want to live in a country where my children and my grandchildren are so indebted.
Francesca Hernandez is undesirable.
The 65-year-old self-employed Pinata saleswoman did not take part in the protest, but walked to a nearby corner to see what was happening.
“They are leaving us with nothing to eat,” she told Al Jazeera, referring to congressional representatives who passed the budget bill.
Hernandez said he did not agree with the destruction of the property because people would eventually have to pay for it. She said she did not want Giammatte to resign, but would veto the budget bill and support Congress. “All we wanted was not to move backwards,” she said.
Giamatte took to Twitter on Saturday afternoon to condemn the vandalism.
“I reiterate that the people have the right to protest as permitted by law. But we cannot allow the destruction of public and private property,” he tweeted, adding that anyone found to be involved in questionable activities would be fully prosecuted.
Hundreds of protesters joined the group outside Congress, many more in the central plaza of Guatemala City. As police fired tear gas, crowds dispersed and re-assembled around the city center.
Byron Garcia Many protesters carried Guatemalan flags as they marched. A street vendor who sells face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, but switched to flags and sound makers on Saturday.
He told Al Jazeera that he was opposed to the budget bill and government corruption. “It affects everyone, but especially us poor people who have to work every day for survival,” he said.