Guatemala Congress
The Guatemalan Congress. Photo courtesy of Red Ciudadana via Flickr.
This Week in Latin America

Guatemalan Protesters Set Congress on Fire Over Budget Cuts

November 23, 2020 By Staff

TODAY IN LATIN AMERICA

GUATEMALA: Protestors set fire to part of Guatemala’s Congress during demonstrations on Saturday against budget cuts to educational and health spending. Around a thousand protestors rallied in front of the country’s congressional building, while an estimated 10,000 more decried corruption and the budget cuts in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City. Police fired tear gas at protestors and around a dozen people have been reported injured. Protestors say the cuts were negotiated and passed secretly, with lawmakers approving the 2021 budget plan in the middle of the night last Wednesday. 

The move came as the country deals with recovery from two back-to-back hurricanes that have displaced thousands of Guatemalans, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. Some Guatemalans cited their frustration that lawmakers approved $65,000 to pay for their own meals, while slashing funding for coronavirus patients, malnutrition assistance and human rights agencies. Catholic Church leaders in the country urged President Alejandro Giammattei to veto the budget on Friday. Giammattei, who condemned the fires in a Twitter post on Saturday, has been asked to resign by Guatemala Vice President Guillermo Castillo “for the good of the country.” Castillo offered to resign alongside him. Giammattei has not responded publicly.

Headlines from the western Hemisphere

SOUTHERN CONE

BRAZIL: The brutal murder of João Alberto Silveira Freitas by supermarket security guards on Thursday evening incited protests in different cities across the country over the weekend. Video of Carrefour security guards repeatedly punching Freitas in the head went viral over the weekend, resulting in several stores being shut down and ransacked. Freitas was killed on the eve of Black Consciousness Day in Brazil. The government informed that the two security guards have been detained and are being investigated for homicide. Carrefour also released a statement rejecting the murder and firing the store manager.

PARAGUAY: Security forces reported on Saturday the killing of three guerrilla commanders of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP). The operation took place in the province of Concepción, on the border with Brazil. The communist subversive group kidnapped former Vice President Óscar Denis in September. The EPP continues to hold a police officer and rancher hostage as well. The group demands that the government release two of its captured members and that Denis’s family donate food to 40 villages. Security forces blame the EPP for the deaths of over 60 people, including soldiers, police officers and civilians, since 2008.

ANDES

COLOMBIA: A massacre on Saturday and another one on Sunday morning left 13 fatal victims over the weekend. The first massacre took place in Antioquia, where a group of heavily armed men entered a coffee farm and killed eight workers. The second massacre took place in the department of Cauca and left five dead, including a local rural leader. Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo offered a reward of $55,000 for information that leads to the capture of the alleged leader of the criminal group responsible. There have been 76 massacres and 256 social leaders killed so far in 2020.

CARIBBEAN

PUERTO RICO: Around 2,000 uncounted votes in seven briefcases were found in the Electoral Operations Building on Friday by staff from the Administrative Board of Absent and Early Voting (JAVAA). The discovery was announced by the electoral commissioner of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, Roberto Iván Aponte. The briefcases contained ballots from the capital, San Juan, and three other municipalities: Utuado, Ciales and Arecibo. All votes except those from Arecibo are early-voting ballots. The alternate president of the State Elections Commission (CEE), Jéssika Padilla Rivera, said that the process was “shameful” but stressed that the briefcases were not “lost” and sought to separate JAVAA from the CEE structure. Padilla Rivera said that the “misidentified” ballots were not the responsibility of the CEE. Aponte said that an investigation into the trajectory of the seven briefcases will not continue until Tuesday.

CENTRAL AMERICA

HONDURAS: Victims of hurricanes Eta and Iota are taking refuge under bridges and overpasses as shelters become overcrowded, leaving them unable to socially distance in the closely packed shelters. Several hundred thousand Central Americans have been displaced due to the natural disasters, with most victims having been evacuated to San Pedro Sula. The city, which still has some neighborhoods under water, houses at least 84 shelters with as many as 100,000 people. Casualties are still being counted, with Reuters reporting at least 40 deaths caused by Hurricane Iota alone, primarily in Nicaragua and Honduras.

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador addressed world leaders during a virtual G20 summit over the weekend. He painted a cautiously optimistic picture of the Mexican economy, which he said is set for a “V-shaped” recovery from the pandemic recession. He estimated that employment will be back at its pre-crisis level by March. This year’s economic crisis cost Mexico a million formal jobs, according to the country’s Social Security Institute, and half of those have already been recovered. López Obrador also asked the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies to offer some debt forgiveness to poor countries that are struggling because of the crisis and to offer credit to middle-income countries at the rates extended to wealthy countries. He also warned leaders against taking “excessive” anti-contagion measures, like lockdowns and curfews aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 and to instead trust citizens to be responsible.

UNITED STATES/MEXICO: El Paso continues to be one of cities hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic in Texas and the United States overall. By Sunday, 81,179 people had tested positive for the virus in El Paso County, almost 10% of the population, according to The New York Times. On Saturday, 36 Texas National Guard troops were deployed to El Paso to deal with the hundreds of bodies of COVID-19 victims saturating morgues in the area. The troops took the places of inmates who had been helping at the morgues. On the other side of the border, Ciudad Juárez is also struggling with high rates of transmission, which pushed Chihuahua government to take the drastic action of implementing a statewide curfew earlier this month, restricting mobility between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. and on the weekends. The curfew was lifted last week after new case numbers started declining, but state health officials are still asking Chihuahua residents to stay home.

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