GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Riot police began efforts Tuesday to remove roadblocks set up by protesters that have paralyzed parts of Guatemala for more than a week, just hours after President Alejandro Giammattei pledged to clear the country’s roads.
More than 120 roadblocks blocked traffic and disrupted trade as thousands of farmers and members of indigenous communities demanded the resignation of Attorney General Consuelo Porras and expressed their support for incoming progressive President Bernardo Arevalo.
Porras’ office has several open investigations related to the August presidential election, and successfully sought to suspend Arevalo’s party — moves that protesters condemned as attempts to thwart the incoming leader before he takes office in January.
At a roadblock on a main road in the capital, dozens of riot police stood. There was a brief stampede with some protesters, and soon more people arrived and surrounded the outnumbered police. The roadblock remained in place.
On Monday evening, Giamatti said in a recorded message that he would arrest protest leaders, who he claimed had received funding and advice from foreigners.
Giamatti’s statements were the strongest attack yet on the protests, which he accused of harming the economy and causing “sabotage.” The comments indicate that the President strongly supports the Attorney General, whom the United States has imposed sanctions on.
“We demand that appropriate arrest warrants be issued so that justice can be served,” Giamatti said. He claimed that protest leaders “received support and advice from foreigners,” who he said “will also be arrested.”
“Foreign funds were transferred to Guatemalan NGOs, and these funds were used to feed and pay for portable toilets, in short all the logistics of the siege operations,” the president said.
The demonstrators are demanding an end to what they see as political persecution by Arevalo’s prosecutors, who have vowed to root out corruption and have described the cases against him as an attempted coup.
Also on Tuesday, Luis Almagro, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States, told the regional body’s permanent council that the actions of Porras’ office were “biased and irrational.”
Almagro said the actions of Porras’ office “undermine the independence and confidentiality of the vote and threaten democratic stability in Guatemala.”
While Guatemalan Foreign Minister Mario Bucaro said the protests led to acts of sabotage and affected millions of Guatemalans, Almagro insisted they were peaceful, but vulnerable to criminal elements who wanted to kidnap them.
Batons He issued a call on Monday for the government to act Against the largely peaceful protesters, who On the streets for weeks They are demanding her resignation over what they say are attempts to undermine their country’s democracy.
Protests broke out in Guatemala two weeks ago One of the most tumultuous elections In the country’s modern history.
In a message posted on his social media accounts, Arevalo said Giamatti was endangering democracy in Guatemala by supporting the controversial prosecutor until the end.
“It is his responsibility as president to come out against the violation of the constitutional rule that (Porras) was implementing,” Arevalo said. “The way out of this crisis is to sit down and listen to the people, who have made their demands very clear.”
Arevalo appeared As a political rival earlier this yearHaving presented himself as a progressive outsider challenging the elite that has long controlled the Central American country. Since then, he and his Seed Movement party have faced waves of legal attacks. These matters only escalated when he won the country’s elections in August.
Attacks included Raid electoral facilities Arevalo’s political party was suspended, effectively hindering his ability to govern.
Such moves against the new leader prompted indigenous groups and rural populations – long disenfranchised in Guatemalan society – to call an indefinite strike, which began with 14 blockades. Two weeks after the protests, the barriers have since expanded, closing more than 80 roads across the country.
In a video posted Monday morning, Porras called the demonstrations against her “illegal” and asked authorities to forcibly clear blocked roads and allow free movement of people again.
Porras and other prosecutors have been sanctioned and their visas revoked by the US government, which accuses them of obstructing the fight against corruption and undermining democracy in Guatemala.
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