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The real test for Ms. Paz and her prosecutors will be parlaying the arrests into just trials, said Anita Isaacs, a longtime Guatemala scholar and a professor of political science at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. She pointed out that the public ministry belongs to a judicial system still considered highly inefficient and, in many ways, corrupt.

U.S. support for Paz

Diplomatic insiders say the United States has made no secret of its insistence that Mr. Perez keep Ms. Paz and reform the country’s weak national justice system.

Claudia Paz is backed by the international community because of her efficiency and professionalism. That’s something President Otto Perez recognizes and respects, too,” said Rene Mauricio Valdes, resident coordinator of the United Nations in Guatemala.

Military action against civilians is a highly sensitive topic in a country scarred by a 36-year war between right-wing-paramilitary groups and Marxist guerrillas that led to the deaths of some 200,000 people — most of them Mayan Indians. Many were raped, tortured and executed in mass killings.

Meanwhile, other voices, mostly from Guatemala’s business elite, warned against comparing the protester shooting outside the town of Totonicapan to the civil war.

“We must be calm and be mindful not to use this event to rehash the past,” said Andres Castillo, president of the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Businesses.

His office filed an official complaint with the public ministry that the indigenous groups were violating members’ right of movement by blockading the highway.