Guatemala’s Controversial 2021 Budget

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Guatemala’s Controversial 2021 Budget

By Nina Staer Nathan

On November 18th, the Guatemalan government, led by president Alejandro Giammattei, approved the budget for 2021 in the middle of the night without prior discussion.

The budget cut funding for various entities related to justice and human rights, yet increased funding for internal governmental expenditures. 

How Civilians Are Responding

21st November Central Square – a Protester’s sign reads ” The United People Against Corruption” #Where is the Money? #Enough #ResignNow

Civilians took to the streets across the country, with the majority in Guatemala City, to protest against the corruption that the country faces.

Some protestors lit a section of the Congress building on fire and asked for the resignation of Giammattei. The hashtags #bastaya (enough), #presupuesto 2021 (budget 2021) , #N21 and #N28 (referring to the dates of protests), are trending in Guatemala right now to raise awareness to the fragile situation. 

Breakdown of the Budget 

Guatemala Congress rushed through the 2021 budget with no outside discussion. (Source – Prensa Libre: Congreso)

A large amount of the budget was destined to ministries and items that benefit politicians, rather than the broader population.

This budget not only shows that priorities go against those currently suffering the effects of the pandemic and 2 hurricanes, but discussions were not made public and the bill was rushed through late at night.

The budget also favors ministries that have historically been hotspots of corruption, such as the Ministry of Communication. 

The Current Situation in Guatemala 

Volunteer firefighters pray before starting a search and rescue in San Cristobal Verapaz looking for an estimated 100 people buried by a rain-fueled landslide, (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Guatemala is currently recovering from two major hurricanes, Eta and Iota, categories 4 and 5, that affected some rural areas very severely. 200 people died in the two hurricanes and thousands more lost their homes, livelihoods, and loved ones in areas that already suffer from high levels of poverty.

The global pandemic also hit the country hard as a whole, especially because during the first six months, President Giammattei imposed strict regulations that closed down many businesses and led to a startling amount of people in the streets waving white flags to signify their need for financial help. 

Corruption in Guatemala 

Despite the clear need for increased governmental support, legislators made $25 million in cuts to education and health spending and halved the judiciary budget, however added $65,000 for the Congress’ personal meals budget. 

Yolanda Xuyá, a community health worker heads to a village in the highlands to weigh babies and measure kids. They are all well below the growth curve. Photo courtsey of Rob Tinworth

Even more disturbing was the $25 million in cuts made to La Gran Cruzada Nacional malnutrition programs.

According to many legitimate sources, nearly 50% of Guatemalan children under 5 are chronically malnourished and stunted however the president has said recently that this figure is only at 0.55%, something the media, nonprofits and the international community have widely discounted.

In reality, about 58% of the population in Guatemala lives below the poverty line, and 79% of the indigenous population lives below the poverty line

About $12 million was allocated for reconstruction of entire towns after Hurricane Eta and Iota, however the same amount, about $12 million, was approved for the construction of a new building for Congress, which many consider an unnecessary expense. Only 15% of the recommended amount was approved for a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Corruption runs deep in Guatemala, and the difference between upper and lower class is stark. Only 260 Guatemalans own 56% of the national economy with 0.001% of the population owning more than half of the country’s wealth

This budget affects the majority of the population in Guatemala, however it disproportionately affects Indigenous and low income populations. 

Politicians’ Bow to Pressure but Tensions Remain High

Congressmen and Women Annulled the budget following civil unrest. Source: Prensa Libre

Following the civil unrest, Congress annulled the 2021 budget in addition to the two loans to finance it.

Nevertheless, in recent days, a series of protests continued with protesters calling for the resignation of senior officials with demonstrations culminating in the burning of a public bus near the Central Square.

On Sunday, November 29, The Chief Human Rights Attorney Jordán Rodas affirmed that the director of the National Police failed to guarantee the rights of protesters and reiterated his request to President Giammattei to remove the Minister of the Interior as well as the director of the PNC for their performance during the latest protests.

The modifications to the 2021 budget could be presented in December or during the first days of January with the new version including proposals from various sectors. 

Here at Pionero Philanthropy, we have our fingers crossed that the revised budget will be passed following extensive discussion from multiple voices and actors which will result in a  fairer budget for the benefit of the majority of Guatemalan people rather than the privileged few.

Pionero Philanthropy partners with some outstanding nonprofits here in Guatemala who are making an impressive difference in their communities during these difficult times. To support some of these fantastic causes, please contact us!