Protests in Guatemala have continued, with protestors calling for the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei and transparent governance. On Saturday 28th November, more than 2,000 people congregated in the central plaza of Guatemala City demanding the discontinuation of Congress. Angela Guzman, a 50-year-old Guatemalan City resident, spoke to Aljazeera saying “They have never passed legislation for the country… They have only benefitted from high salaries and [corruption].”
The demonstrations are a continuation of protests that erupted on November 21st after Guatemala’s congress approved a controversial $12.8 billion budget for 2021. Thousands of people across the country took to their town centres to protest, with marches being led by university students in Guatemala City. The protests were mainly peaceful but culminated in some demonstrators setting parts of the congress buildings on fire. Police responded with teargas and water cannons, and videos emerged on social media of police beating bystanders, photographers, and journalists. Two people were hospitalized with eye injuries.
Various human rights groups have called for investigations into the police response to the protests, citing excessive force that was not warranted by the situation. Amnesty International condemned the police response with their Americas director Erika Guevara-Rosas saying the Guatemalan police “violated” international codes surrounding the use of appropriate force, and “attacked the population’s right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
Despite being annulled, the controversial 2021 budget plan has left its mark on the political consciousness of the people. The budget was announced in the middle of the night and was heavily criticized. It reduced funds for public healthcare while allocating funds to government departments that have a history of corruption. It raised budget quotas for the representatives’ own meals while cutting funding for coronavirus patients and human rights agencies. This was announced amidst the fallout of two recent devastating hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic. President Giammettei has been criticized for his overall handling of the pandemic and hurricane relief, and there are cries of corruption and favouritism in the government. Guatemala’s human rights prosecutor Jordán Rodas was one of these critics, calling the budget a “devious blow” to the people because of its arrival after the recent natural disasters and that “there are signs of government corruption, clientelism in the humanitarian aid.”
Right now, faith in the Guatemalan government seems to be diminishing. One of the protestors, psychology professor Rosa de Chavarría said that they were “outraged by poverty, injustice, the way [the government] have stolen the public’s money.” The government needs to be fair and transparent in their policymaking process, to reassure citizens that they are acting in the public interest and that they will meet public needs. To avoid any further violence, especially that being committed by government police officers, measures need to be taken to increase policy transparency and fairness.