- Violent protests in Guatemala and Colombia continue to raise the social temperature across Latin America.
- In Guatemala, protests were sparked by the passing of a national budget for 2021, a record high US$12.8 billion. The issue is not the budget but how it will be used, including taking money from a nutrition program to use for congress.
- Protesters burned down the country’s congress building.
Violent protests in Guatemala and Colombia continue to raise the social temperature across Latin America. The reality was underscored by a violent weekend after protests led to fires, pitched battles and multiple injuries.
Over the weekend of Nov. 21, a mass protest broke out in Guatemala City, the capital of the Central American country. Eventually, a large fire engulfed the country’s congress building.
“A building, no matter to what extent a historical heritage it is, it does not feel hungry, it does not suffer poverty, it is not a victim as so many people in Guatemala have been,” tweeted a social media user by the handle @PabloFerpecto. “Congress was not burned for free, it was their actions, from the rulers, that brought the demonstration to this point. Let it burn.”
The Violent protests in Guatemala were sparked by the passing of a national budget for 2021.
Many are worried that the US$12.8 billion budget, a record high for a national budget for the small Latin American nation. Guatemala is about the size of the state of Pennsylvania and has a population of about 17 million with a GDP of US$85.3 billion.
The main concern for protesters in Guatemala, is not the increase in the budget but how the government plans to distribute it.
“Guatemala is one of the countries with the highest rate of malnutrition, yet they take 200M (about US$25.5 million) from the Crusade for Nutrition and increase it to the Congress budget. Outrageous,” tweeted Edgar Gustavo Lima, a lawyer in Guatemala City.
Part of the budget will be used to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, which has so far infected 118,000 people and killed 4,000 people.
Down in Colombia, protesters destroyed a police car during protests to mark the anniversary of a movement that hit the country hard in 2019.
In Colombia, leftist leaders such as former M-19 guerrilla member and former presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, cheered the arson in Guatemala.
“The Guatemala people woke up against corruption,” he tweeted, quoting another tweet with news and a picture of the engulfed congress building.
Many in Colombia criticized Petro´s tweet. In November 1985, M-19 seized and burnt the Colombian Palace of Justice, which resulted in the death of 65 people, most of them hostages. Petro didn’t participate in that event because he was in jail at the time.
Guatemala’s images of the arson were similar to those from 1985, given the similar colonial architecture of the buildings.
And also in Colombia this weekend, left-leaning movements, many of which are Petro´s followers, marched on the streets of Bogota, the capital city. They called for a long list of demands related to protection for former FARC guerrilla members, better working conditions for schoolteachers and even fracking.
The protests the weekend turned into vandalism. A police car was destroyed.
On Monday, a memorial ceremony was held in downtown Bogota, in honor of a student who died in November 2019, hit by a 12-gauge shotgun shell shot by riot police.
Bogota’s mayor Claudia Lopez attended the ceremony but was booed by a large crowd of protesters. She had to be escorted out of the ceremony by her security detail, which even deployed a ballistic shield to protect her from the mob that surrounded her.
Lopez is a left-leaning politician and rival of Petro. Lopez is technically the head of the police in Bogota but has opposed the use of riot police during protests, many of which have ended in vandalism and attacks against private and public property.