Events

Comparative Peace Processes in Latin America

April 03, 2006 // 8:00am5:00am

How to consolidate democracy following the experience of violent repression and internal armed conflict represents a continuing challenge in many countries of Central America and the Andes. Although weak institutions and low levels of state capacity characterize many emerging democracies in Latin America, the legacy of war poses a deeper and distinct set of obstacles. Since 1994, the Latin America Program's project on Comparative Peace Processes has explored this intersection between democratization and war in six countries of the hemisphere: Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru. On April 3-4, 2006, the project sponsored a major two-day conference at the Wilson Center that sought to update and expand the multicountry analysis found in Comparative Peace Processes in Latin America (Stanford, 1999) while including the Haitian case for a forthcoming book on democracy and armed conflict.

Project coordinator and Latin American Program director Cynthia J. Arnson set the stage for this second, and final, stage of the inquiry. In the decade and a half since the end of the Central American wars, she said, much of the optimism that accompanied the signing of peace accords and the demobilization of guerrilla fighters has dissipated. Building functioning democracies out of the ashes of authoritarianism and conflict--in essence, constructing a state that was previously strong only in its military dimension--had proved a daunting task. Weak democratic institutions had failed to inspire broad-based confidence in the democratic system. Just as important, while absolute levels of poverty in some cases had been reduced, social inequalities had widened as countries opened up their economies in accordance with free trade orthodoxy or failed to enact reforms that would spread the benefits of growth more widely.

Dinorah Azpuru, Wichita State University, discussed polling data from Latin America that point to dissatisfaction with democracy and declining support for its institutions. Azpuru provided a typology of political regimes that contrasted authoritarian and pseudodemocracies with electoral and liberal democracies, placing public opinion surveys within the context of contemporary debates on the quality of democracy in Latin America.

Felipe Agüero, University of Miami and a Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow, argued that swift postconflict transitions may have advantages. He compared the police and military reforms in El Salvador with the delays experienced in Chile, Brazil, and Mexico. Agüero highlighted the transitions literature's emphasis on foundational moments that shape the democratic regime emerging in a postconflict environment, and emphasized the importance of strengthening party systems for creating consensus about the legitimacy of democracy as the "only game in town."
Ariel Armony of Colby College suggested that "ripe moments" as described in the conflict resolution literature exist in the immediate postconflict phase as opportunities for establishing norms and institutions. Armony claimed that the United States failed to place economic redistribution at the center of post-Civil War reconstruction and did not do so until the civil rights movement of the 1960s. By contrast, Rwanda utilized gender-sensitivity to create innovative mechanisms that enabled women to be at the forefront of the reconstruction effort following the 1994 genocide. Stewart Patrick of the Center for Global Development emphasized that the peace-building literature does not prioritize democratization nor does it focus to any significant degree on Latin America. Nevertheless, the peace-building and transitions literatures overlap in the attention given to poverty alleviation and the strengthening of institutions as ways of building sustainability. In volatile situations, postponing elections until politics become demilitarized may be necessary.

Regarding Guatemala, Edelberto Torres-Rivas, United Nations Development Program, Guatemala, noted that democracy has weakened the state and its institutions by producing peace accords that did not resolve the root causes of conflict. In Guatemala, where democracy was established before peace, the quality of accords contrasts with state incapacity to implement them. Ricardo Córdova Macias, FUNDAUNGO, El Salvador, distinguished between the design (1991-1992), execution (1992-2000), and implementation (2000-present) phases of the postconflict process in El Salvador. The peace accords contain political reforms for demilitarizing and democratizing the state. Achieving lasting peace and democracy are intrinsically linked to broadening the experience of citizenship and improving living standards.

Marco Palacios, El Colegio de México, argued against confusing peace processes with democracy-building in Colombia. A colonial legacy that has produced the highest concentration of land in Latin America, a strong antistate bias, and the country's status as a frontier society in a permanent process of colonization contextualizes Colombia's multiple conflicts and peace processes. Raúl Benítez, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, described the conflict in Chiapas as between indigenous peoples and the historic landowning class. The 1994 uprising served to destroy the historic political system in Chiapas and called attention to the state's abandonment at the federal level. The EZLN's uprising helped ‘democratize' Chiapas by creating broader representation in the state legislature and motivating the central government to invest in social projects.

According to Carlos Basombrío, Capital Humano y Social, S.A., and Peru 21, the end of political violence in Peru does not imply the consolidation of peace. The rapid collapse of the Fujimori-Montesinos regime following evidence of systemic corruption provided a "ripe moment" for reform. Although Peru's political dynamics changed dramatically following Fujimori's resignation, the window of opportunity for reforms is closing as criticism of politicians and institutions becomes conflated.

Carlos Iván Degregori, Instituto de Estudios Peruanos and Princeton University, noted that victimization rates in Peru were highest in rural areas and among individuals whose mother tongue was predominately Quechua. In discussing the findings of Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Degregori argued that the supposed trade-off between truth and justice is not applicable to Peru: opening trials will not endanger democracy, but rather help in its consolidation.

Victoria Sanford, City University of New York, discussed the role of Guatemala's Comisión de Esclarecimiento Historico (CEH), which is establishing a record of violence and changing the public's perceptions about what took place during the conflict. The commission visited more than 2,000 communities, interacting with 20,000 people (1,000 of them military), and is becoming a depository for important documents. Ninety-three percent of violations were attributed to the military, and 3 percent to the URNG guerrillas. Although the guerrillas apologized publicly, the military remains silent and key generals have rejected the CEH's findings outright. Pablo de Greiff of the International Center for Transitional Justice noted that the literature on transitional justice repeats the aspiration that more truth telling contributes to justice. Nevertheless, justice in moments of transition remains modest given the multiple failed attempts to make reparations to victims worldwide.

On the topic of peace transitions, crime, and violence, José Miguel Cruz of the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas of El Salvador, argued that violence does not emerge from civil wars alone. In studying the Central American gangs or maras, it is evident that they evolved from cultural flows from the United States, transplanting rivalries from the North to Central America. Since 2001, mano dura policies by the government have resonated with the public and created obstacles for democratic consolidation. Rafael Fernández de Castro, Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, argued that the maras phenomenon is blown out of proportion in the United States. Interestingly, Mexico and Nicaragua exhibit little mara activity; explaining this discrepancy has to do with the presence of social networks and the role of the state. Gonzalo Sánchez, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, elaborated on the ways Colombia's constitution and legal system distinguish between political and common crime. The transformation of common crimes into political crimes allows for the rebellion to be criminalized while criminality is politicized. Charles Call, American University, commented on the ambiguities surrounding the distinction among political, social, and economic violence. Cristina Eguizábal of the Ford Foundation, Mexico, spoke of the need for conceptual frameworks that allow for a comparative analysis of maras and economic liberalization as it contributes to the weakening of the state.

On political and social inclusion, Ana Sojo of CEPAL-Chile pointed to the gradual but stagnant reduction in poverty levels in Central America, which have been accompanied by a deterioration in distributive practices, an incomplete process of improving gender equity, and the ongoing difficulty of attending to the effects of internal displacement from the war era. Poverty is intimately associated with the quality of employment and productivity levels, which remain low in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Economic consultant Alexander Segovia spoke of the definitive collapse of the agroexporting model based on elite mechanisms of control. In El Salvador, five years of economic stagnation were alleviated only by large remittance flows resulting from the perverse social safety valve of outward migration. Addressing political inclusion, Ana María Bejarano of the University of Toronto noted that guerrilla insurgent groups were reduced in Colombia from seven to two since the 1960s. But the impact on political participation has been mixed, with the dramatic elimination of members and elected officials of the Unión Patriótica and the declining electoral fortunes of the M-19 over time. Mechanisms of "positive discrimination" created an electoral system favorable to the inclusion of marginalized groups while also contributing to a highly fragmented party system and parties.

On the role of the international community, Blanca Antonini, Centro Toledo para la Paz, Madrid, explored the role of the European Union in Central America and Colombia. She compared Europe's use of "soft" power in countervailing U.S. military or "hard" power. European countries have tended to focus on the linkages between development and peace, thereby emphasizing social and humanitarian affairs. Over time, the EU position on Colombia has become more closely aligned with that of the United States; Europe has included the ELN and FARC guerrillas on its list of terrorist organizations and remains cautiously supportive of the Uribe government.

Johanna Mendelson, United Nations Foundation, said that peacekeeping cannot be effective without diplomacy, the willingness to demonstrate power, and the inclusion of locals in the reconciliation process. Missed opportunities in Haiti provide an important learning experience for the United Nations and the Organization of American States, which have both been extensively involved. Haiti is often categorized as a failed state; despite the UN mandate to intervene to restore democracy, national dialogues never really started and the political exclusion of key actors continues to fuel the crisis. Teresa Whitfield of the Social Science Research Council spoke of how the UN did the minimum in Haiti to conform to international standards, given the low level of international interest in the country; whereas in Central America, the international community committed substantial human and financial resources after the signing of the peace accords. Helpful "fixers" like Norway and Sweden maintain large embassies in Guatemala and Colombia, using their presence to assist in peace negotiation and consolidation, rather than to pursue trade or commercial interests.

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