PBI-Guatemala expresses concern about freedom of expression following police repression of protests against budget

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: A still from a Twitter video of police firing tear gas at the protest in Guatemala City.

On November 22, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project posted on its Facebook page: “We join the concerns about fundamental human rights to freedom of demonstration and freedom of expression.”

They shared with that a post from the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared of Guatemala (Famdegua) that says: “We reject repressive government brutality! We stand in solidarity with the people illegally detained, the persons assaulted and injured, the students and the civilian population in general who have joined the call and participated in the various demonstrations that took place in several places in the national territory, where the act police had the same repressive tactics against the civilian population.”

There were at least two protests, one in front of the National Palace and a separate one, not far away, at the Congress building.

Yesterday, the BBC reported: “The bulk of Saturday’s demonstrations, which some observers said were the biggest yet against the budget, were peaceful.”

And the Associated Press notes: “The Inter-American Human Rights Commission on Sunday condemned what it called an ‘excessive use of force’ by police against demonstrators opposed to a new budget that slashes social spending.”

That article, and many other news reports, also noted: “Protesters broke into the Congress building and set one office afire on Saturday, and tossed rocks at police. Flames poured out of the building’s neoclassical facade.”

That article adds: “Police used tear gas and nightsticks to push demonstrators back, attacking not only about 1,000 demonstrators in front of Congress but also a much larger protest in front of the country’s National Palace.”

Sandra Cuffe further notes in Al Jazeera: “Thousands of people took to city and town squares around the country with demands ranging from a presidential veto of the budget bill and prosecution of corruption to resignations across all branches of government and the constitutional assembly.”

“Guatemala’s Congress passed the budget bill Tuesday night, increasing lawmakers’ own stipends for meals and other expenses and cutting funding for human rights programmes and the judiciary.”

Significantly, Cuffe adds: “They also axed $25 million destined to combat malnutrition, igniting nationwide outrage. A subsequent amendment that restored those funds did nothing to quell peoples’ anger. Guatemala has one of the world’s highest rates of chronic malnutrition and the hurricanes have exacerbated hunger; for many, the funding cut affecting malnutrition was the last straw.”

And the BBC notes: “The opposition says the budget prioritises big infrastructure projects to be handled by companies with government connections and overlooks the social and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. They are also angered by what they describe as major cuts to education and health spending.”

Similarly, France 24 notes: “Guatemala’s Congress, dominated by conservative pro-government parties, approved an almost $13 billion budget [and most] of the funds will go to infrastructure tied to big business, sparking outrage in a country where poverty is widespread and half of children under five years old are malnourished.”

There has been no comment on social media from Global Affairs Canada or Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne.

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