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Guatemala's Congress on fire during protests

Guatemala's Congress on fire during protests. Photo: Public Domain

Following a weekend of anti-government protests, Guatemala's Congress has been forced back from putting through a corruption-riddled budget, reports Jonathan Maunders

Anti-government protesters in Guatemala have recorded a major victory as the Speaker of Congress was forced to announce that a proposed, unpopular budget would not be enacted.

The speaker’s statement follows a weekend of protests against the president and the country’s legislature for approving a budget that would have slashed spending on health and education, whilst benefitting large corporations.

Demonstrations first erupted on Friday after anger spread across social media in response to the proposed budget. Guatemalans were enraged when it was revealed that legislators had approved nearly £50,000 to pay for their food, while cutting funding for human rights agencies and patients with Covid-19.

The following day, thousands of protesters gathered in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City, opposing political corruption. They accuse the country’s legislators of secretly negotiating and approving the budget while its citizens were dealing with the fallout of repeated hurricanes and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Anger has also grown in response to recent actions by the attorney general and supreme court which many protesters believe are designed to stifle the fight against political corruption in the country.

Guatemala’s nationalist president, Alejandro Giammattei, aggressively attempted to shut down the protests. Over the weekend, he accused protesters of vandalism and labelled fires as acts of terrorism. He has also ignored calls from the vice-president, Guillermo Castillo, to resign.

Giammattei was elected last year following a campaign promising jobs and foreign investment. However, his right-wing government has responded abjectly to Covid-19, starving hospitals of support and providing little financial aid to those unable to work due to the pandemic.

Guatemalan politics has been dogged by corruption for many years and the country’s human rights prosecutor, Jordán Rodas, noted that the proposed budget would have aided ministries and companies that have historically been rife with corruption.

In 2015 mass anti-corruption protests broke out in Guatemala City, forcing the resignations of the then president, Otto Pérez Molina, and much of his cabinet. Molina is currently in prison in response to numerous corruption charges.

In forcing the budget to be shelved, Guatemalan protesters have chalked up a major victory. However, they must build on this momentum to force out Giammattei’s government and, unlike 2015, ensure they build a political system free of corruption.

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