Anti-government protesters stormed Guatemala's congressional building on Saturday afternoon and set fire to it amid increasing frustrations with the government over a new budget that would slash educational and health spending, reported AP News.
Videos on Twitter show hundreds of protesters cheering outside the building in Guatemala City as it erupts in flames.
Vandals set fire to the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala because they happen to disagree with the budgetpic.twitter.com/ZtWyhu9N3e— Alfons López Tena (@alfonslopeztena) November 21, 2020
BBC reports, "fire services have managed to put the fire out, but the extent of the damage is not yet known."
The incident comes as thousands of demonstrators lined the front of the National Palace in Guatemala City. They say legislators secretly passed a budget for the next fiscal year during a period where the country was distracted by recent hurricanes (Hurricane Eta and Iota) and the virus pandemic. They also allege government officials prioritized infrastructure projects to companies with close ties with the government, adding that the new budget neglects to allocate monies for social and economic programs to help the working-poor amid the virus pandemic.
Vice-President Guillermo Castillo denounced the burning of the congressional building on his Twitter account:
"Anyone who is proven to have participated in the criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law." He said people have the right to protest, "but neither can we allow people to vandalize public or private property."
Mass protests were also seen nearby.
🇬🇹 | #RenunciaYa | Pero también lo polémico pasa por la disminución de los fondos para el cáncer, menor prevención contra la desnutrición infantil, pero se sube el presupuesto para los diputados y las infraestructuras también se benefician. Hubo serias protestas. pic.twitter.com/7x6YF0QUqj— Entre Guerras (@EntreGuerras1) November 21, 2020
President Alejandro Giammattei said meetings had been arranged with various groups to change the controversial budget.
On Friday, Vice-President Guillermo Castillo condemned the budget and said that both the president and himself should resign "for the good of the country."
Guatemala's human rights prosecutor Jordan Rodas said the budget was a "devious blow to the people because the country was between natural disasters, there are signs of government corruption, clientelism in the humanitarian aid."
Roman Catholic Church officials in Guatemala were also displeased with the budget, asking the president to veto the budget on Friday.
Add Guatemala to the list of countries experiencing social unrest.