Guatemala Explodes in Violence against COVID, Poverty, Corruption
Nov. 22, 2020 (EIRNS)—Desperately poor Guatemala erupted in violence yesterday, as tens of thousands of citizens gathered in Guatemala City and in other cities around the country to protest the 2021 budget, passed by the Congress in a secretive, closed-door session in the wee hours of Nov. 18, with no public debate or input. Current funding levels for social services are already woefully inadequate. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and having just been slammed by two back-to-back hurricanes, Eta and Iota, angry Guatemalans took to the streets to protest government corruption, when it became known that the new budget provides no new funding for education and healthcare, including for the response to the coronavirus pandemic, poverty, food security and child malnutrition. Legislators did approve more funding to cover their own meals and expenses!
In Guatemala City, while protests were largely peaceful, a small group of violent, hooded provocateurs broke windows and threw incendiary devices inside the National Congress building, setting a portion of it on fire. Riot police responded harshly, even against the peaceful protesters, setting up barricades, using tear gas and arresting and injuring dozens of citizens.
The Guatemalan situation bears some resemblance to what has erupted in Peru, where “pandemic psychosis” has unleashed blind violence against elected authorities and government institutions. The call to protest came from an amorphous group of Guatemalan “artists and writers” and a number of social and other organizations. Questions are also being raised as to whether the attack on the Congress was pre-planned, possibly with intelligence services’ collusion, in order to discredit any protest. Vice President Guillermo Castillo is now calling for the budget to be revoked and for President Alejandro Giammattei to resign, even offering to resign himself if Giammattei steps down. Giammattei says the budget can’t be changed and doesn’t seem prepared to resign.
What is clear is that Guatemala is in an absolutely desperate situation. Almost 60% of the population of 17 million people live in poverty, while 50% of all children under the age of five are malnourished. Coronavirus cases total 118,629, with 4,074 deaths. The majority of Guatemalans have no access to healthcare, and the public hospitals that do exist in urban centers are crumbling; healthcare staff work in appalling conditions, lacking proper equipment and protection, underpaid or often not paid at all. Food insecurity is growing at an alarming rate. Between January and June of this year, food insecurity rose from 570,000 to 1.2 million people and continues to increase.