Guatemala unrest

Latin America’s wave of social and political unrest arrives in Guatemala.

The wave of social and political unrest sweeping Latin America arrived in Guatemala last week with some of the largest protests the country has ever seen.

While the majority of the protest was peaceful the Congress building fell victim to vandalism and arson before it was secured by the riot police.

The protesters were calling for the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei after Congress approved the 2021 budget, which forecast a strong rise in public debt while cutting health and education expenditure. Additionally, the protesters were angered by the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a political analyst comments, “USD 3.8 billion was allocated to fight the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 but only 15% of that has been invested.”

The timing could not have been worse, as large numbers of people were still struggling through the aftermath of hurricanes Eta and Iota.

A private sector executive exclaimed, “The government approved a totally unfunded budget with a huge level of indebtedness, people from all sectors are protesting. Meanwhile, there are still thousands of people waiting for help following the hurricanes.”

“The government approved a totally unfunded budget with a huge level of indebtedness, people from all sectors are protesting.”

Private sector executive, Guatemala

Shortly after the protests, Vice-President Guillermo Castillo proposed that he and the President should resign “for the good of the country”. He stated that there was “little communication” and that “things are not right” between the two and that he “does not share many decisions adopted by the government”. The President replied, “if he [the Vice President] is so uncomfortable, he should resign”.

The President and Vice President have had a strained relationship for months over how to respond to the COVID-19 which led to a very public sparring match earlier in the year.

President Giammattei then invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter of the Organisation of American States (OAS), which allows for steps to be taken to ensure constitutional order is maintained. In doing so, he called the protesters “minority group that seek to force a coup d’etat.”

An opposition representative said, “There is no attempted coup, there is a political crisis due to a lack of compliance with the constitutional mandate and mismanagement of public resources.”

“There is no attempted coup, there is a political crisis.”

Opposition representative, Guatemala

A week later the protests continued, although smaller, with an estimated 2,000 people gathering in Guatemala City’s central plaza to continue demanding the resignation of the President.

For the time being, the proposed budget has been suspended and the government has requested dialogue between various groups to resolve the situation. We continue to observe.

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