Guatemala suspends budget ratification after attack on Congress

Demonstrators burn an effigy representing Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei during a protest demanding his resignation, in Guatemala City on November 22, 2020. Hundreds of Guatemalans partly burned the Congress building Saturday in a protest demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei, following the passage of a budget that has sparked outrage in the impoverished Central American nation. Police arrested more than 20 people and almost 50 were sent to hospital injured, one of them in a serious condition. (Photo by JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
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GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala, Tues. Nov. 24, 2020 (Reuters) – Guatemala has suspended the final ratification process for the 2021 budget after its approval by lawmakers sparked violent protests at the weekend and attacks on Congress, the president of the legislature, Allan Rodriguez, said on Monday.

Shortly before midnight on Sunday, congressional leaders met to discuss the budget, which foresaw cuts to spending on health, education and human rights, and an increase in public debt.

“In order to maintain the governability of the country and social peace, we’ve agreed to suspend the process of approving the revenue and spending plans for the 2021 budget,” Rodriguez said on congressional social media.

The budget had been due to go to President Alejandro Giammattei to be signed off, but on Saturday demonstrators set fire to Congress in protest at the plan.

Instead, next year’s budget will be based on the 2020 spending plan. That puts it 8.2 billion quetzals ($1 billion) above the sum that had been proposed for 2021, and includes additional spending to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic has killed 4,076 people and infected nearly 120,000 in the Central American country.

Before the meeting, the Guatemalan government called on the Organization of American States (OAS) to help facilitate dialogue between political forces after warning that some minority groups were seeking to carry out a coup.

Guatemala is also coping with the effects of two major hurricanes that battered Central America during the past month, affecting more than 350,000 people in the country.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Editing by Richard Chang)