GUATEMALA CITY – Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets on Thursday to protest, starting fires and blocking roads across the Central American country, to demand the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei after the dismissal of a notorious anti- prosecutor. corruption.
The protests have gathered momentum since Guatemala’s Attorney General Maria Porras last week removed anti-corruption fighter Juan Francisco Sandoval as head of the Office of the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity (FECI), a decision which was condemned by Washington.
Sandoval, who fled Guatemala last weekend, said he was fired after the attorney general prevented him from trying to investigate corruption cases linked to Giammattei. The president denied being involved in corruption.
In an interview with a local TV station last weekend, Porras said she always acted transparently. “(Sandoval) exercised selective justice as he tried to prosecute people of opposing ideology,” she said.
In Guatemala City, a crowd of thousands marched from the Presidential Palace to the Attorney General’s office with signs saying “Giammattei, resign”.
Protesters set tires on fire and spray paint at police officers deployed to protect government buildings.
“Today we are in front of the presidential palace but a president does not live here: a traitor does,” said Samuel Pérez, an opposition deputy who joined the demonstrators.
At 5 p.m. local time, the number of protesters began to decline, as the remaining protesters camped peacefully outside the National Palace of Culture, an imposing museum building that also houses some of the president’s offices.
The protests in Guatemala City were part of a nationwide strike called by indigenous leaders, social groups and student organizations to demand the resignation of Giammattei and Porras.
The latest protests highlight growing internal frustrations in Guatemala over corruption and the dismantling of judicial independence. In 2015, waves of such anti-corruption protests led to the downfall of then-president Otto Perez Molina.
On Thursday, across the impoverished nation of 17 million people, protesters blocked traffic at major crossroads and marched with banners calling for the departure of the president, elected two years ago.
“We are here to tell the president that we do not recognize him as president because he no longer represents the interests of our country,” said Martín Toc, an indigenous leader from Totonicapán, in western Guatemala.
Since his leak, Sandoval has told various media outlets that the president was linked to an incident last year where 122 million quetzals, equivalent to more than $ 15 million, were found crammed into suitcases at the house of a former Minister of Infrastructure.
Sandoval also said he was investigating how unidentified Russian businessmen allegedly delivered bags of money to the president during a meeting at his home, an event, he said, which was somehow linked to the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.
Giammattei this week strongly denied all the claims and added that the allegations involving the businessmen were “false comments bordering on slander and defamation.”
United States suspends cooperation
The United States, which strongly condemned Sandoval’s sacking, said on Tuesday it was suspending some cooperation with Guatemala’s attorney general as it tried to pressure Central American governments to end the impunity. Read more
The administration of US President Joe Biden has made the fight against corruption a central part of its strategy towards the region, as it aims to address the root causes of illegal migration to the United States, which has increased this year.
In a statement shared on Twitter, Giammettei said Thursday that the US decision to suspend support for the attorney general was “counterproductive” in the fight against organized crime and corruption.
U.S. Northern Triangle Special Envoy Ricardo Zuniga, when asked about Giammattei’s comments, told reporters in Washington that Sandoval’s sacking raised serious questions about Guatemala’s commitment to tackle the corruption.
“We made it clear in our response that we had lost confidence in the Attorney General,” he said.
As police guarding government buildings clashed with protesters in the capital, no incidents of violence were reported.
Thursday’s protests came after hundreds of Guatemalans demonstrated outside the presidential palace on Saturday after Sandoval was sacked.
Giammattei’s government also faced protests last November when a group of protesters torched the Congress building over education and health cuts in the 2021 budget. A few days later, Congress burned down withdrawn the budget.