Reflecting on Nicaragua
by Craig Kauffman
Summary written by: Mariya Yevsyukova, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Reflecting on Nicaragua." ICAR Newsletter. Fall 1994. V. 6, No. 2. Pp. 9-10.
Craig Kauffman explores the situation in Nicaragua after the coalition government of Violetta Chamorro came to power in 1990. A lot of hopes were associated with Chamorro's government. She was able to reconcile different groups of the United Nicaraguan Opposition and it was expected that she would be able to satisfy divergent interests of the Nicaraguan populace. The results were rather disappointing. If ideological differences between the people are withering away and do not encourage conflict, new reasons for conflict have emerged. There is a growing distrust of the leaders among the common people and a dangerous separation between these two class groups. People believe that the leaders failed in economic rebuilding of the country and care only about their personal gains.
There are a lot of military groups operating in the rural areas of the country. They rearmed themselves and resorted to violence mainly to fulfill their "financial/survival needs" (p. 9). Nicaraguans themselves explain this as a "cultural trait", which author believes consists of two elements. First, Nicaraguans have a long history of being abused by the government, which has been robbing the people of the fruits of their labor for many years. People were not able to develop incentives for working for the distant future and preferred to pursue short-term personal interests. Second, for many Nicaraguans being in a military group was a way to earn their living. It led to the absence among the young generation of agricultural and technical skills necessary for returning to peaceful life. Due to a lack of government assistance, those young people prefer to stay in the resistance groups, which now do not fight for ideological reasons but are involved in criminal activities to get money. The concept of "a conflict-habituated system" developed by Dr. Louis Diamond is applicable to the situation in Nicaragua. It implies that conflict became a part of the social structure of the society.
But there is a hope: there are groups working on the transformation of this system toward developing peaceful relationships and altering the social structures that encourage violence. The Nueva Guinea Peace Commissions serve as an example. These commissions were organized by citizens who wanted to stop violence. They played the major role in reducing violence and disarming the Southern Front of the Contras by serving as a channel for communication between the Contras and the Sandinista government. The Commissions' members fulfill the following tasks: (1) serve as advocates for the victims of human rights violations, investigating the cases of violence and providing authorities with the information; (2) mediate between rearmed groups and the government, and in land ownership disputes; (3) provide pastoral support through listening to and comforting the victims of violence; (4) use moral force to convince all sides to stop human rights violations. The appeal to humanity outside the political preferences and the state of anarchy existing in the society made the warring parties more willing to respond and experience a sense of satisfaction from doing something in the interests of the community, rather than for just their personal gains.
The situation in Nicaragua is unstable. Although people are tired of war, the inability of the government to develop effective economic policy and assist in transformation of "a conflict-habituated system" could have dangerous consequences. Time will tell if local Peace Commissions have enough strength to prevent the new conflict (based on class differences) from developing.