Justice shows signs of taking hold in violent Guatemala

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That has given her the clout to face down the president and the military and ward off obvious attempt to thwart or quash her prosecution.

Within 24 hours of the shooting outside the town of Totonicapan, Ms. Paz had deployed crime scene specialists, investigators and prosecutors from five offices spanning three different states.

The overwhelming majority of the teams had received international training funded by the Spanish and Canadian governments, said Jose Arturo Aguilar, the attorney general’s secretary of strategic and private affairs.

“The role of the public ministry is to consolidate justice as a fundamental mechanism for strengthening our democracy,” Ms. Paz said in an interview.

A spokesman for Mr. Perez said his acceptance of the prosecutor’s actions showed his commitment to reforming a country marred by corruption and impunity.

“The president’s reaction ratifies his promise of strengthening the rule of law that will fortify Guatemala’s democracy,” spokesman Francisco Cuevas said.

Guatemala has widespread institutional corruption, “including unlawful killings, drug trafficking, and extortion; and widespread societal violence, including violence against women and numerous killings, many related to drug trafficking,” according to a recent State Department report.

Dramatic shift

Experts said the president’s recent actions mark a dramatic shift in a country once known for its reluctance to punish its military. The prosecutions are the first of troops accused of illegally suppressing protests since the end of Guatemala’s civil war.

“It is an important departure from Guatemala’s long history of impunity for similar crimes,” said Kelsey Alford-Jones, director of the Washington-based nonprofit group Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA.

“Justice in this case, along with the demilitarization of citizen security, will be a significant step toward ensuring nonviolent resolution of social conflict in the future.”

Protester representatives called the prosecution a step forward but told local media that they still want to see the interior minister and defense minister resign.

Since assuming leadership of the public ministry in 2010, Ms. Paz has vigorously pursued military officials and other suspects, putting four civil-war-era generals on the stand for crimes against humanity and genocide charges after their cases stalled for decades.

She also has pushed for international training of prosecutors to carry out science-based prosecutions.

“We’re now seeing the successes of the public ministry. It is an institution that is acting with autonomy,” said Marlies Statters, director of Impunity Watch, an international watchdog organization that monitors whether governments comply with legal obligations to crime victims.

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