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Guatemalan President Reviewing Budget, Which Slashed Healthcare Spending, After Outraged Protesters Set Fire to Legislative Building

"We are outraged by poverty, injustice, the way they have stolen the public's money," a psychology professor who attended the protests told the press. 

Demonstrators confront riot police during a protest demanding the resignation of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, in Guatemala City on November 21, 2020. - The Vice President of Guatemala, Guillermo Castillo, asked President Alejandro Giammattei to resign together for "the good of the country," after the 2021 budget was approved in Congress. (Photo: Orlando Estrada/AFP via Getty Images)

Demonstrators confront riot police during a protest demanding the resignation of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, in Guatemala City on November 21, 2020. - The Vice President of Guatemala, Guillermo Castillo, asked President Alejandro Giammattei to resign together for "the good of the country," after the 2021 budget was approved in Congress. (Photo: Orlando Estrada/AFP via Getty Images)

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said he was reviewing possible changes to the country's 2021 budget, which was passed last week and included massive cuts to education and healthcare funding, after outrage over the plan led an estimated 10,000 people to demonstrate in the nation's capital, with some setting fires at the congressional building.

As the country recovers from Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which hit within days of one another and displaced thousands of people, and copes with the coronavirus pandemic, legislators made drastic cuts to education spending, aid for Covid-19 patients and people suffering from hunger and malnutrition, and funding for human rights agencies—while adding $65,000 to the budget for their own meal stipends. 

"We are outraged by poverty, injustice, the way they have stolen the public's money," psychology professor Rosa de Chavarría, who attended the demonstration, told the Associated Press. 

The protest included a peaceful march in the center of Guatemala City, with demonstrators calling on all lawmakers to resign and carrying signs that said they have "neither a president, nor a Congress." About 1,000 people gathered outside the Congress, where some broke windows and lit fires in some of the legislative offices.

Firefighters quickly put out the fires, which did not cause any reported injuries, while police officers sprayed tear gas at protesters. About a dozen protesters were injured in the clashes with police. 

Roman Catholic Church leaders in Guatemala joined the public in recent days in demanding that Giammattei veto the government's budget, which critics say was passed while the country was distracted by the damage done by Eta and Iota as well as the ongoing pandemic. 

"It was a devious blow to the people because Guatemala was between natural disasters, there are signs of government corruption, clientelism in the humanitarian aid," the country's human rights ombudsman, Jordan Rodas, told the AP. 

Maria Vega, a teacher who attended a protest with her children Saturday in the city of Antigua, about 25 miles from Guatemala City, told the New York Times, "We have endured a lot over the past few months and the fact that health, education are not prioritized is frustrating."

On Friday, Vice President Guillermo Castillo called on Giammattei to resign along with him "for the good of the country," and said the budget should be vetoed and that the federal government must engage more with people across Guatemala. Castillo said he would not resign unless Giammattei does. The president has not publicly responded to Castillo's comments.

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