Guatemala: Anti-Government Mob Sets Fire to Congress

TOPSHOT - Demonstrators set on fire part of the Congress building 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," …
ORLANDO ESTRADA/AFP via Getty Images

Hundreds of rioters in Guatemala vandalized and set fire to parts of the national congressional building in the capital, Guatemala City, on Saturday.

In an attack that lasted approximately ten minutes, hundreds of hooded individuals stormed the building, breaking the main entrance door and several windows. The mob used torches to set fire to a portion of the building then continued to advance further inside, destroying and looting federal property. Guatemala’s National Civil Police used tear gas to disperse the rioters from the legislative hall. Law enforcement authorities later detained 37 people for alleged involvement in the rioting, Argentine news site Infobae reported.

The congress building was reportedly empty at the time of the attack, though the Guatemalan Red Cross said it treated several people for smoke inhalation after the incident. Local fire services put out the blaze, the flames of which were visible from the street. Authorities have not yet released details about the extent of the fire’s damage. Infobae published photos of people exiting the building after the attack with their arms full of looted items, including food and alcohol.

The attack on the legislative building was linked to a thousands-strong rally in the capital on the same day to protest a new state budget for 2021 approved by the Guatemalan Congress on November 18. The legislative body is largely controlled by the nation’s ruling, right-wing party, Vamos. Left-wing opposition leaders say the new budget prioritizes major infrastructure projects contracted to companies with connections to the government. They argue that it overlooks the country’s need for additional social and economic resources amid the recession caused by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.

Opponents of the budget are now demanding the resignation of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei. The country’s Vice President Guillermo Castillo seemed to express his opposition to the new state budget at a press conference on November 20, according to Infobae. Metaphorically assessing the health of the Central American country, Castillo said Guatemala is currently “not well.” Building on his analogy, Castillo said that both he and President Giammattei should step down to “oxygenate” the country.

“For the good of the country, I have asked him [Giammattei] to present his resignation together [with me],” Castillo said in a message sent to journalists through an official vice-presidential WhatsApp messaging group.

In his statements to the press, Castillo also claimed that he has told President Giammattei that “things are not good” in Guatemala. He further admitted that he “does not have a good relationship” with the president, according to Infobae. Castillo said he would propose his resignation to congress if the nation’s political course is not “corrected” according to the left-wing opposition’s demands.

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