Summary of "Comparative Peace Processes in Latin America"

Summary of

Comparative Peace Processes in Latin America

By Cynthia J. Arnson

Summary written by Eric Brahm, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Arnson, Cynthia J., ed. 1999. Comparative Peace Processes in Latin America. Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

This book is a collection of essays that draws upon insights from scholars and practitioners on efforts to bring a peaceful end to guerrilla conflicts in Latin America and address the underlying causes. As Arnson outlines in the introduction, the cases illustrate that peace processes are forwarded by a number of factors: prior tentative steps at democratization; some existing institutions to build upon; a government and insurgent leadership with legitimacy; the preferences and political will of elites; perceived stalemates; civil society involvement expands the number of stakeholders; and active international involvement. It also focuses on identifying the domestic and international factors contributing the degree to which these peace processes were successful. Along the way, consolidating gains are challenged by questions of pursuing justice, reconstruction, and reform of the military.

The volume focuses on six countries: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia. We are first given useful descriptions and assessments of the peace processes in each country. Spalding describes how polarization and violence remain significant in Nicaragua due to unfulfilled commitments on all sides, weak political institutions, and unmet economic needs after years of conflict. What are needed, Bendana argues, are more local conflict resolution initiatives. In discussing the situation in El Salvador, Canas and Dada criticize the peace process for seeing the 1994 election as the end point of the process rather than being in many ways just the beginning. Many of the reforms anticipated by the peace accord have stalled. In Guatemala, as Azpuru explains, political opening predated peace talks and was reinforced by them. The peace process, according to Plant, has also provided a political opening for Guatemala's indigenous population. The United Nations role in El Salvador and Guatemala is compared by Whitfield. She sees a number of similarities, after all the Guatemalan process learned from El Salvador, but also significant differences due not only to learning, but also because of different domestic and international conditions at the time negotiations got underway. In the end, it's perhaps too soon to reach diffinitive conclusions. Arnault points out that, in contrast to El Salvador, the low intensity nature of the conflict in the 1990s generated little impetus on the government or URNG to end it. For the same reason, it was not a high priority for the public, at least compared to poverty, for example. In such a context, the international community and domestic civil society were instrumental in bringing the parties to the negotiating table. Chernik chronicles Colombia's twenty year on-and-off peace process. Ending the long civil war has been complicated as the number of relevant actors has multiplied. More hopefully, Bejarano sees a potential opening as elites feel the growing economic costs of the conflict. In Peru, Basombrio and McClintock are both pessimistic of lasting peace because the government did not have to compromise and, in fact, took draconian measures in order to win the war. They discuss how the government confronted the insurgency and defeated it. Because Sendero Luminoso was defeated militarily, it removed the incentive for the government to negotiate with remaining elements. In Mexico, the Zapatistas timed their insurrection well. The government was more concerned about international opinion as NAFTA was just coming into effect and they found sympathy amongst Mexican civil society due to displeasure with corruption. Harvey argues the conflict has lingered because there has been little domestic or international pressure for resolution. However, the movement has, according to Navarro, led to a resurgence of indigenous identity.

The second section turns to questions of helping ensure peace lasts. Jose Zalaquett reflects on the proper moral, practical, and ethical framework to deal with policies on truth, justice, and reconciliation. Comparing Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, El Salvador, and South Africa, he outlines similarities and differences in both the nature of the conflict, but also the measures taken to deal with them in an effort to achieve some measure of truth, justice, and reconciliation. Priscilla Hayner focuses on evaluation of truth-seeking. She explores the conditions under which truth commissions contribute to justice, how we might identify that reconciliation has taken place, and selecting the circumstances under which truth commissions are feasible. She also considers the lessons South Africa's TRC may provide for Latin American cases. Vickers explores the common problem in Central America of internal security in post-conflict situations across the cases. Efforts to reform security services and the judiciary have been constrained by a lack of capacity and political will. McCleary provides an assessment of Central America's economic prospects, an important element in the future of any peace process. She argues that the emphasis on regional integration and export-led growth can provide real benefits, but governments need to invest in education and health care to realize these gains.