Monday, November 23, 2020

Guatemalans protest budget cuts, Giammattei (Nov. 23, 2020)

 Thousands of Guatemalans protested against President Alejandro Giammattei and the legislature for approving a budget that cut educational and health spending this weekend. Hundreds broke into the National Assembly building on Saturday and set it on fire, and an estimated 7,000 people gathered peacefully in Guatemala city marches. Police arrested more than 20 people and almost 50 were sent to hospital injured, one of them in a serious condition.

The head of Congress announced today that the controversial budget will not be sent to Giammattei for signature and will not come into force.

Protesters were incensed by the budget that reduced spending on health and education but increased lawmakers' meal stipends. The proposal would also gut funding to combat malnutrition and slashed funding for the judiciary. Discontent had been growing for days in relation to the 2021 budget, which was negotiated in secret and approved by the congress before dawn Wednesday. Protesters say lawmakers schemed while Guatemalans were distracted by back-to-back hurricanes and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The indignation harkens back to 2015 protests that toppled then president Otto Pérez Molina, but there is an added component of exhaustion and irritation about the country's trajectory, explains Plaza Pública in an in-depth piece on the protests.

“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,” said Jordan Rodas, the country’s human rights prosecutor.

The budget lawmakers passed was almost $13 billion, the largest in the country's history. But, analysts say a third of the budget will need to be financed by debt, and most of the funds will go to infrastructure tied to big business which has angered citizens that point to the country's high level of poverty.

The Roman Catholic Church leadership in Guatemala called on Giammattei to veto the budget. On Friday, Vice President Guillermo Castillo said in a news conference that he had “little communication with the president” and offered to resign, but only if Giammattei stepped down with him. 

More Guatemala
  • The Guatemalan Congress’s efforts to press criminal charges against Constitutional Court judges over a recent court ruling are a flagrant assault on judicial independence, Human Rights Watch said last week.
News Briefs

  • A Black man died after being beaten by supermarket guards in Porto Alegre last Thursday, on the eve of Brazilian Black Consciousness Day. Footage showed João Alberto Silveira Freitas being punched in the face just outside the doors of a Carrefour supermarket, reports the Associated Press. Other clips showed Freitas’ being kneeled on. The two men who allegedly beat Freitas have been detained and are being investigated for homicide due to the victim’s asphyxiation and his inability to defend himself, according to the police.
  • The case ignited widespread outrage in a country that has been grappling with structural racism and the violent treatment of Black Brazilians by security forces, reports the Washington Post. Hundreds of protesters held demonstrations over the weekend outside Carrefour stores in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, as well as in the south and northeast of the country, reports the Wall Street Journal. More than 2,000 demonstrators staged a protest outside the Carrefour store Friday where Freitas died.
  • Pastors and politicians in Brazil are increasingly waging a legal crusade against journalists and critics reports the New York Times. The number of lawsuits against journalists and news organizations seeking the removal of content or damages for critical coverage has increased notably during the Bolsonaro presidency. The piece highlights the case of journalist J.P. Cuenca who has been sued for an acerbic Twitter comment by at least 130 Universal Church pastors, claiming “moral injury."
  • Digital misinformation is a major issue in Brazilian elections, including the second round of this year's municipal elections that take place next Sunday. "Social media is the dominant battlespace in which politicians mobilize their digital mobs for political advantage," write Igarapé researchers in an Open Democracy piece that explores how the government and companies have sought to counteract fake news.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro won office, in part, on his anti-corruption campaign. But two years into the job, Brazil appears to be regressing in its quest to stamp out the malfeasance, reports the Washington Post. And Bolsonaro and politician members of his family are under investigation for a variety of improprieties, including accusations of embezzlement and money laundering.
  • Brazil has been accused of obstructing United Nations biodiversity talks following a row over the use of virtual meeting technology to overcome Covid-19 restrictions. The dispute threatens a key conference next year which aims to set new targets to protect the Earth’s natural life support systems, reports the Guardian.
  • Venezuela will hold legislative elections on Dec. 6, though most international observers say the government has not come close to a minimum threshold for them to be considered "free and fair." Most prominent opposition parties have decided not to participate, and instead Juan Guaidó is promoting a parallel "citizen consultation" or referendum asking voters to reject the Dec. 6 legislative elections. Citizens will be able to cast votes online starting Dec. 5 and at some physical polling spots on Dec. 12. The referendum also asks whether voters believe "necessary measures with the international community" should be taken to defend Venezuelan democracy. The question is aimed at granting the opposition some sort of mandate to continue international lobbying after they lose their seats in the National Assembly, according to some analysts. (EFE, Venezuela Weekly, Caracas Chronicles
  • Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro has indicated a desire to establish "direct channels of dialogue" with the incoming U.S. Biden administration, while the Venezuelan opposition expects the future U.S. government to maintain pressure against Maduro. Biden advisors are limited in what they can say so far, but indicated support for a "negotiated solution to this crisis" during the campaign. (Venezuela Weekly)
  • Beyond whatever policy changes a Biden presidency could bring to regional relations, the domestic transformation promised by the next U.S. government could inspire reforms in Latin America, argues Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which lambasted parts of Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala in quick succession this month will have ramifications for years. Climate change induced factors, including more intense storms and droughts that are destroying crops in Central America, are a major push factor for migrants, reports the Daily Beast.
  • Hurricane destruction of infrastructure in Central America was widespread, reports the Washington Post.
  • At least 13 people died in two massacres in different parts of Colombia this weekend, reports AFP.
  • International stargazers who planned to watch a Dec. 14 total solar eclipse that will track across Chile and Argentina could be stymied by Covid-19 travel restrictions in both countries, though regulations are loosening, reports the Washington Post.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...   


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