Latin America is emerging from a 30 year period of intense, violent and deadly conflict. The Central American civil wars are over, in South America the national security governments with their massive and systematic human rights violations have all been replaced by elected governments with a commitment to respecting human rights, indigenous communities are becoming peacefully incorporated as independent political actors throughout the region, Sendero Luminoso has been defeated in Peru; and the wars between El Salvador-Honduras, Argentina-Great Britain and the near wars between Peru-Chile and Argentina-Chile, as well as Guatemala’s threat to the existence of Belize, have all been settled, some more amicably than others. In addition, the nuclear arms race between Brazil and Argentina has ended without proliferation, arms industries have been dismantled, military budgets have declined dramatically and military conscription is slowly being eliminated.
Yet the legacy of this violent period has a strong impact on Latin American citizens, policymakers and military officers: few believe that this past has been clearly exiled to the dust bin of history, never to threaten the peace and prosperity of the region again. For example, guerrilla movements persist in Colombia and Peru, a border war erupted between Ecuador and Peru in 1995, and vigilante groups threaten to undermine many of the compromises which ended the Central American civil wars. Hence a lively and fundamentally important discussion flourishes in the region concerning the causes, prevention and resolution of deadly conflict.
The Problem of Deadly Conflict
Motives. Latin American analysts disagree about a number of issues concerning deadly conflict, but there is a major consensus concerning the roots of such violence. Social and economic marginalization produces poverty and a sense of powerlessness. For some critics, this marginalization is reproduced and reaffirmed through political structures which defend the status quo, thereby leading to political alienation from the political system. There is also a great deal of concern that the emphasis on allowing the market to work furthers this alienation by rapidly destroying communal and societal safety nets. This situation may continue to simmer, explode suddenly and/or develop into sustained violent conflict, depending upon precipitant events or the success of political entrepreneurs.
At times this situation produces sporadic and spontaneous, but extremely violent uprisings. These uprisings are provoked by a sudden event, such as the raising of prices on previously subsidized goods and services, or a large new appropriation of resources previously controlled by locals. The phenomenon of an "urban revolt" is defined as a spontaneous uprising of short duration with a minimum of organization and coordination, and is distinguished from "civil disobedience" by its violence. For example, the "Caracazo" of 1989 produced 300-2,000 deaths and another 1,000 wounded during two days of rioting throughout the principal cities of Venezuela.
But the more dangerous situation occurs when this context of poverty and alienation provides fertile ground for anti-system political entrepreneurs to organize sustained violence against the political system. While we are all familiar with such movements against authoritarian political systems, they also occur against democratic systems which fail to provide opportunities for social, economic and political participation. This was the battle cry of many left-wing oriented activists in the 1960s and 1970s against "bourgeois democracy", but many committed democrats in the 1990s continue to worry about it..
The issue of political entrepreneurs raises the question of the motives of these leaders of the violence. Ideological beliefs have historically been the main impetus for the organization of violent movements., However, ideologically based violence has waned as the right has been discredited by massive violations of human rights, the end of the Cold War has discredited anti-democratic alternatives even among the left, and the defeat of Sendero Luminoso in Peru has met defeat.
Latin American analysts perceive the second most prevalent motive of these political entrepreneurs as the struggle for political and economic power. (The U.S. government, partly because of an historical skepticism regarding the importance of ideology, tended to emphasize power over ideology in its analyses of these movements.) These political leaders seek to empower the marginalized sectors of society so that they may gain control over their everyday lives, be secure and climb out of poverty. In the past the closed nature of the social, economic and political structures of the country at times convinced these leaders that revolution was the only path to improvement. With redemocratization there is a new opportunity for the peaceful empowerment of these groups,. Latin Americans, nonetheless, worry that the new political and economic structures may not deliver sufficient opportunities to the large number of citizens mired in poverty, thereby contributing to a new round of violent challenges to the system.
Personal and illicit economic gain is increasingly important as a new motive among individuals seeking to organize the socially marginalized into potentially large scale and deadly confrontations.. Though contraband has been a way of life for many groups in Latin America because of government and publicly sponsored private monopolies, it has not previously resulted in large scale violence. Today the drugs barons of the region have organized poverty stricken peasant producers and the desperate urban poor into traffickers. Their hold over these individuals comes not only from the distribution of economic benefits, but also from terror. Drug lords have organized enforcement gangs and generated large scale violence in efforts to terrorize those who would interfere with their ability to continue to generate enormous personal wealth. A particularly violent combination of guerrilla movements with drug production and trafficking also developed in Peru.
Politicization of indigenous communities may be leading them to become increasingly assertive in demanding not only economic benefits, but the right to participate in the national political life without assimilating into Ladino society. War and mass violence from the Conquest to the first half of the 20th century demobilized, silenced and isolated many of the surviving indigenous peoples of Latin America. But the Central American wars and the increased penetration of the market in the 1980s in many ways destroyed their isolation and led many indigenous people and sympathetic activists to actively defend their cultural heritage once again. When Ladino dominated political systems did not respond appropriately, some of these groups turned to violence.
There is also increasing concern in parts of Latin America over the organized violence perpetrated by youthful gangs and the official security forces ostensibly given the charge of upholding the law. These gangs are comprised of urban marginals, alienated from society and, in Central America, reproducing their experiences in U.S. urban gangs when they were refugees from the civil wars. Gangs in the rural areas often include ex-combatants who have demobilized but cannot find gainful employment, given the economic crises which currently afflicts the region. Given the lesser opportunities for legally gainful activities in the shantytowns of Latin America and the low professional state of the police and judiciary, gang violence produces a much greater level of perception of insecurity in Mexico City, Guatemala City, San Salvador and Rio than in the U.S. The result is a proliferation of private police forces, poorly trained but armed, and a militarization of urban police forces. The combination of these factors produces a dramatic increase in the level of deadly urban violence.
The migration of economic refugees has in the past produced extremely violent conflict in Latin America. For example, in 1937 Dominican troops massacred up to 12,000 Haitians looking for work in the Dominican Republic and the 1969 war between El Salvador and Honduras was precipitated by Honduran decisions to expel thousands of Salvadorans working illegally in Honduras. Many Venezuelans and Costa Ricans now believe that crime and unemployment are the result of the thousands of Colombians and Nicaraguans illegally crossing the border. At the present time vigilantism has not produced large scale deadly conflict, but the potential remains, as for example on the Honduran-Salvadoran border where hundreds of people caught on the "wrong" side of the border after the 1992 World Court settlement are harassed by official and extra-official armed groups. Salvadoran Defense Minister Gen. Jaime Guzman Morales expected that "these kinds of conflict will continue until a definitive solution is reached regarding citizenship and property rights in the border communities."
The drive for power of the populist demagogue or the military junta may also lead to violent conflict as the leaders seek to divert attention away from their inability to deliver on promises made. Most Latin American analysts interpret the Argentine decision to seize the Malvinas/Falklands islands and subsequent war with Britain, as a tactic on the part of the military junta to divert their attention from protests against their economic mismanagement and continued control of the government. The redemocratization of the region, however, is believed to make it less likely that political leaders can or need to manufacture diversionary and violent conflicts in order to retain power.
Nationalisms that are territorially focused have been a source of constant tension in the region because most borders contain disputed sections. Bolivia refuses to re-establish full diplomatic relations with Chile because it cannot resolve the question of sovereign access to the Pacific (lost to Chile in the 19th century War of the Pacific); and Ecuador and Peru, Nicaragua and Colombia, and even the long-standing democracies of Venezuela and Colombia have experienced threatening moments on their borders. Progress has been made, though slowly, over the last century; among the most promising recent experiences are the resolution of 23 of the last 24 remaining points of contention between Argentina and Chile, Guatemala’s recognition of the legal existence of Belize, and the acceptance by Honduras and El Salvador of the arbitration resolving their border demarcation. Yet even in some of these cases the potential for deadly conflict remains. Guatemala is only now, six years after recognizing Belize, beginning to discuss where the precise borders lie, and El Salvador and Honduras are encountering increased tensions along the border as they seek to resolve citizenship and property questions.
Patterns. Deadly conflict in Latin America has taken different forms, depending upon whether the issues involved were "traditional" or what are now seen as "new" post Cold War security issues. The patterns of conflict that matter are not only the ones which directly produce deaths, but also those which are designed to wreak havoc on the economy and sow a climate of insecurity among the population and subsequently produce deadly conflict. The goal of both these types of conflict is to weaken and delegitimize the ability of the state to provide for the common good; it thus feeds directly into the governability problems perceived by many Latin American analysts to be the major issue of the contemporary period. (see below)
The traditional pattern of hostilities consists of armed skirmishes between organized tactical units directed from the capitals. These traditional patterns of conflict develop in Latin America over borders, natural resources, and power projection. In only one of these confrontations has a "new" issue on the international agenda been a major factor in the violence: the drug trade in the U.S. invasion of Panama. That intervention and subsequent pressure on Colombia led some Latin American analysts to fear a new wave of U.S. military invasions in the Caribbean Basin. The Latin American security literature on confidence building measures, arms control and the military balance of power focuses on this pattern of violent conflict.
Even before the end of the Cold War and the focus on purportedly new sources of conflict, the traditional pattern of interstate violent conflict did not fundamentally concern Latin American analysts. In 20th century Latin America internal conflict has been significantly more deadly than interstate conflict, especially within the last 30 years (Compare Tables 1, 2 and 3). Four patterns of violent conflict can be discerned: civil war between armed groups operating under central commands; locally autonomous and officially tolerated "death squads"; non-official violence perpetrated by anti-system forces, be they political insurgents or criminals; and terrorist attacks designed to undermine the state’s ability to provide peace and prosperity.
Year Conflict Deaths
1969 El Salvador-Honduras War 2,000-5,000
1981 Ecuador-Peru 250
1982 Argentina-Great Britain 1,000
1989 U.S. invasion of Panama
1995 Ecuador-Peru 1,000-1,500*
1980s U.S., Honduras-Nicaragua (Big and Little Pine Maneuvers)
*official figures are less than 100, but U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Ambassador --- Davidow said "hundreds" in a presentation at the University of California, March 3, 1997 and my confidential interviews with U.S., Ecuadorian and Peruvian civilian and military analysts in August 1995 found agreement on over 1,000 deaths, with some analysts claiming up to 1,500 deaths.
Yearsa Conflict Rough Estimates of Deaths
1962-70; 1976-96 Guatemala 80,000-100,000
1975-80; 1981-91 El Salvador 80,000-100,000
1962-79; 1980-90 Nicaragua 30,000-40,000
1980-present Peru 30,000
1976-82 Argentina 8,500-30,000
1973-89 Chile 2,000-5,000
1989 Caracazo Riots in Venezuela 300-2,000
Sources: for Central America: discussion with Caesar Sereseres; Venezuela: Hernandez, "El Tercer Saqueo" p. 115; Chile, Claudio Fuentes;
b. although guerrillas had been active for years in Colombia, sustained confrontations between the government and the guerrillas began in 1978 and with the drug mafias in 1984. Francisco Leal Buitrago, "Political Crisis and Drug Trafficking in Colombia" New York: Institute of Latin America and Iberian Studies, Columbia University Papers on Latin America #21 1990 pp. 2-3
Rio de Janeiro
Try WOLA for figures
Another pattern of deadly conflict is found in civil wars, in which armed groups operating under central commands and controlling significant amounts of national territory fight for control of the government. The civil wars of Central America were ended by negotiations which redemocratized the region, while in Peru the end came with the military defeat of insurgents. (While Sendero and the MRTA [Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement], still active, they have been effectively reduced to guerrilla and terrorist actions). In Colombia, however, civil war continues in numerous regions in which the government has no control.
Death squad activity can take many forms, consisting of soldiers, police, and even private entrepreneurs seeking to make money. They tend to be locally autonomous and officially tolerated, if not directly encouraged and essentially given carte blanche to act as they see fit in "saving" the country. Government officials are rarely held accountable for their actions yet at the very least their inaction is fundamental to continued death squad activities. These violent activists are defenders of the status quo, whether it be against political insurgents or criminals, including gangs of street children in Rio de Janeiro. One of the problematic issues in newly democratic societies of Latin America is attempting to discover who was responsible for directing these actions, and determining whether one wants to punish them or move toward reconciliation based on discovering the truth (more on this in the section on measures to preclude violence.)
Terrorist violence is distinguished by its desire to provoke a reaction that produces more violence. By increasing the level of violence in a society terrorists seek to destroy the system. Three types of terrorism have been distinguished: subversive terrorism, state terrorism and transnational terrorism. One of the interesting aspects of subversive terrorism in Latin America which differentiates it from that in the Middle East or Northern Ireland, is that it is not linked to demands for national sovereignty of a particular group. Instead it is stimulated by perceived domestic injustices. In state terrorism, government forces and their allies use terror to destroy the links between guerrillas and society. Transnational terrorism is committed in neutral or third party states but is targeted at the home country of the terrorists. Costa Rica and Honduras suffered from many of these acts in the 1980s.
A final pattern of deadly conflict is indirect, yet still contributes to a climate of conflict which produces significant numbers of deaths. These are terrorist attacks designed to undermine the ability of the state to provide an acceptable level of individual security and prosperity. These attacks focus on economic targets such as power stations or policemen and judges as symbols of the state’s ability to provide individual security. Many Latin American analysts see this challenge directly linked to the question of governability.
Regional dimensions. Latin America’s interstate wars in the 20th century, unlike those of the 19th, have been bilateral affairs. There has also been surprisingly little spillover of internal conflict across borders, although outsiders often become involved in their neighbors internal problems. In the 1980s we had active military involvement by the U.S., Argentina and Cuba in Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as by Nicaragua’s Sandinista government in El Salvador, and Cuban support for the guerrilla movement against the military dictatorship in Chile. Because Latin American countries all faced many of the roots of violent conflict, there was great concern that violent conflict in one country, if not contained, could envelope the region. Speaking of the Central American conflicts during the 1980s, the Argentine Minister of Foreign Affairs claimed that "if a war developed in this region its effects would spread to the entire Latin American continent (sic). From Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, our societies would be in turmoil, polarized, and radicalized." This expectation was shared by both the defenders of the status quo, as well as those seeking to overthrow it.
Regionalization of conflict occurs not only via interstate war, but also by international linkages created by subversive and criminal elements. The fear that neighboring forces in conflict will develop contacts with Colombia’s guerrillas propelled Colombia’s presidents to mediate conflict in Central America and Panama. The international links of revolutionary forces not only increased their ability to do violence, but also stimulated the Colombian government and its international allies to use military force to defend the country against external aggression, thereby increasing the level of deadly conflict.Many Peruvian analysts worried that Sendero’s successes were creating contingency plans among Brazil, Argentina, Chile and the U.S. to invade the country.
All political sectors in the region saw Latin America as being pulled apart by the Cold War. In response to the internationalization of Latin American conflicts the right sought more intervention by the allied superpower, the U.S. As Minister Caputo noted, "... polarized and radicalized societies are particularly apt for superpower conflict and competition ... we would see ourselves once again involved in a foreign conflict, raising banners which are not ours and shedding our blood for symbols that do not represent in any case either a national or regional interest."
The center, as well as some on the left, perceived that easing both superpowers out of Latin American conflicts would facilitate their management. Efforts were undertaken to create a Zone of Peace in the region as a whole, or in subsections which could be more easily isolated from U.S. strategic concerns, such as southern South America. Augusto Varas of FLACSO-Chile was an early exponent of this idea, and the Comision Sudamericana de Paz was established in Buenos Aires in 1987 with the explicit task of stimulating the conversion of South America into a Zone of Peace. Before this third path or isolationist security scenario could play itself out, however, the Cold War ended, helping to produce (along with redemocratization and economic liberalization) a dramatically altered security environment for Latin America.
In the post Cold War era Latin America has once again emphasized the regional dimensions of security by stressing the collective nature of security and thus the responsibility and interest of the inter-American community to aid in disciplining those who threaten the region’s peace. By this definition, all movements against democratic systems as well as interstate violence should become internationalized because the community will become involved in protecting peace and security. The expectation is that such intervention will be limited to diplomatic and economic boycotts. But Argentina was quite supportive of the U.S. decision to utilize military force in Haiti.
What Can be Done?
Early reaction to signs of trouble. Latin Americans have been searching for early warning signs in order to head off many of the violent conflicts. They perceive that success in this area is a twofold process, requiring a willingness to undertake concerted action as well as the ability to discern the likelihood of conflict. Both have been problematic, but perhaps the commitment to act has been most difficult to develop. This is because historically most Latin American countries saw the defense of national sovereignty as their best protection against the willingness of European great powers and the U.S. to intervene, even with force, in their domestic affairs.
This view began to change in the late 1980s, largely as a result of the ongoing experience with violent conflict. The Contadora peace process, sponsored by Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Mexico, attempted to resolve the Central American crisis with a minimum of attention to domestic issues and more to traditional concerns of foreign interventions against internationally recognized governments and local military balances. The Contadora effort stagnated since the U.S. emphasized the internal political aspects and the Sandinistas were reluctant to diminish their military capacity (they saw the U.S. as their chief adversary, not Honduras or Costa Rica). The 1986 and 1987 Esquipulas meetings triggered a major conceptual shift which produced the Arias Plan. President Arias perceived that the roots of the Central American interstate mistrust lay in domestic politics. He thus pushed for national reconciliation, questioned the democratic rather than legal, legitimacy of the Sandinista government, and argued that a lasting peace required the democratization of the political systems. In addition, a timetable for the implementation of the distinct phases of the peace plan was developed, as well as an International Commission of Verification and Vigilance (CIVS), consisting of the foreign ministers of the G8, the five Central American countries and the General Secretaries of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the UN. Because Latin Americans, and not the U.S., took this initiative, the domestic sources of interstate conflict now became legitimate targets for action by Latin Americans.
The most convenient short hand for Latin American concerns with situations which could develop into the violent inter and intrastate conflicts of the past, has been the survival of democratic systems. Latin Americans like to criticize the U.S. definition of democracy, which focuses on the formal institutions and elections, and emphasize the need to incorporate the "democratization of social and economic conditions." The truth is that their governments use the formal definition for practical purposes. As a baseline, Latin American governments have accepted that all of the hemisphere is governed by democratic political systems, with the exception of Cuba. The overthrow of a democratic system thus was first informally recognized, and subsequently codified in the OAS, as a threat to the peace and security of the region.
There are other efforts to discover early warning signs of deadly conflict. Among the major projects are FLACSO-Chile’s efforts to construct an index of developments in the area of the strategic balance. This effort builds on the Peace and Security in the Americas work which produced a definition of the strategic balance as encompassing four elements:
1. A perception concerning the relative weights of actual and potential capacities of two or more potential adversaries.
2. The concept of a strategic balance encompasses more than the military balance.
3. The strategic balance needs to be conceived of and analyzed in a specific context, peculiar to the geographic, historical, military and cultural attributes of the actors.
4. Capacities are related to the specific strategies which actors choose to use in achieving their goals.
The Center for Peace and Reconciliation of the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress and the Netherlands Institute of International Relations are embarked on a joint project to determine the causes of conflict. The researchers are examining 69 political-military factors and 48 social-economic factors. While the Dutch are interested in the sources of conflict throughout the Third World, the Central Americans have been focusing on understanding the Central American inter- and intrastate wars. Dr. Joaquin Tacsan was working on a synthesis of these factors which would allow one to identify situations which were particularly ripe for violent conflict. Unfortunately, his recent death has slowed the group’s work.
Comprehensive balanced approach to alleviating pressures. Although Latin American analysts, policymakers and activists may disagree about what needs to be done, virtually everyone agrees that stable peace can only be achieved through comprehensive and balanced efforts. The Central American Treaty for Democratic Peace of 1995 identifies four guiding principles: the rule of law (estado de derecho), strengthening and perfecting democratic institutions, subordination of the armed forces to constitutionally mandated civilian authorities, and maintaining an active, flexible and mutually collaborative dialogue. One analyst argues that democracies’ best response to terrorism combines civil means -- economic, political, legal and diplomatic -- with military force. Another scholar and Ambassador argues that cooperative security in South America requires development of a common understanding of security which is compatible with democratic forms of government in the region, equal deterrence capabilities among states in the region, and coordination of foreign policies.
The team in Nicaragua under the auspices of the International Commission of Support and Verification and the OAS has made a number of recommendations for the construction of peace in societies previously at war. These five recommendations are illustrative of the idea that the construction of peace requires a comprehensive approach.
1. Nationalization and Sustainability of the Peace Process
The conditions which led to the establishment of the international peace mission should not be permanent. Responsibilities for support services must be gradually transferred to national entities, both governmental and nongovernmental. State institutions include the judiciary, police, Human Rights prosecutor, and electoral organs, while in civil society the local organizations will need to be strengthened.
This process of nationalization requires strengthening these entities and their capacities to support the peace process, principally the national efforts of mediation, resolution of conflict, protection of human rights and deterrence of violence. If this process is not successfully carried out, an institutional vacuum will develop after the international mission leaves and the peace will not survive.
2. Popular Participation in the Peace Process
The population participates in the peace process via the peace commissions. This eliminates the paternalistic practices into which international organizations are often prone to fall, and which atrophy national capacities and generate passive attitudes. The most effective dissuasion from the use of violence is that which comes from an organized population, with a positive and active attitude towards their future. The peace process is not constructed exclusively by the state and international organizations, but also by organized popular constituencies. The three actors need to coordinate so as to make their actions complementary. In short, it is a participatory conflict resolution process.
3. Local Decentralization of the Peace Process
The goal is decentralized conflict resolution. Involving local authorities will allow the pacification process to respond to the specific needs of the people in the most efficient, practical and realistic manner. By this means the local peasant communities become participants in the peace process, not just objects. For this criterion to be effective, local capacities must also be strengthened.
4. Development of Peasant Civil Society
These post-war communities have historically been repressed. The construction of peace ought to stimulate their organization and the development of forms of self-representation which will allow them to become effective actors in society.
Who Does the Work?
There has been a fundamental change in Latin Americans’ understanding of their margin for action. Many analysts have historically argued that Latin America’s problems were not locally caused and that therefore solutions to national problems require changes in the behavior of external factors. Some of these perceptions have changed. For example, Tokatlian and Pardo argue that Colombia’s consistent and long standing tradition of violence is the root cause and thus external factors build on it, but the solutions to it have to be found in Colombia. Latin America has also historically been a state-oriented society, that is to say that the government was perceived as the key actor, for good or bad, in structuring the political, economic and social environment in which people interacted. The terror of the national security states largely destroyed this view, although it does still persist in some countries which escaped the horrors of state terrorism.
Civil Society. The strengthening of civil society is virtually a battle cry in contemporary Latin America. Analysts recognize that society has the power to make a difference, but that it has been too unconcerned and demobilized to act. There is a new effort to inculcate democratic values, rather than simply democracy as a tool, to be discarded if it doesn’t get you where you want to go.
Freedom of the press has long been understood to be necessary for a free society in Latin America, but now with the dismantling of many government monopolies over paper distribution and television channels (including by the penetration of satellite TV) there is a proliferation of alternative sources of information. This is a mixed blessing since hate groups can also peddle their wares. But since schoolchildren are now being taught about human rights, perhaps the new free societies in Latin America can tolerate such excesses.
Civil society is also being strengthened by the proliferation of "think tanks," organized by locals and supported in part by international foundations. Some build on existing structures such as the FLACSO groups in Chile and Argentina, while others are stimulated by diplomats and politicians (e.g., the Arias Foundation and the Comision Sudamericana para la Paz, la Seguridad Regional y la Democracia), by retired military officers (e.g., the Instituto Latinoamericano de Estudios Civiles-Militares, with head offices in Lima, and an office in Chevy Chase, Maryland) and still others are private efforts by intellectuals and others.
The rise of nongovernmental organizations in Latin America has been a fundamental factor in the strengthening of civil society. The churches were early activists, particularly in the area of human rights and development (remember Liberation Theology). But they have also been active in instances during which border tensions threatened to erupt into deadly conflict. Today there are NGOs developing throughout Latin America on virtually any issue of interest. One of the important arguments concerning the ability of local NGOs to perform effectively is that they need to establish themselves as legitimate national actors, whose functioning is simply facilitated by international NGOs.
State. Despite the new emphasis given to society, the state is still perceived to play an important role, more so than in the U.S. Before addressing the question of what the state should do (see below), we need to address the question of who in the state is seen as responsible for helping to prevent deadly conflict.
Latin America is a region of strong Presidentialism, verging on a democratically sanctioned authoritarianism for the period in office, usually constitutionally limited to no immediate re-election, if at all. Thus in the past to speak of state action meant to focus on Presidential interests. Things have changed in the past five years, however, as Presidential excesses threatened to bring down democratic systems in Venezuela, Brazil, Guatemala, and Ecuador, and did temporarily in Peru. Attempts to transform the system into a parliamentary one, seem to be developing into a trade-off of increased legislative power in return for the possibility of immediate re-election for the Presidency. The result should be governmental policies which are more in tune with the desires of the electorate. This should facilitate some of the changes analysts argue are necessary to insure peace and prosperity.
In addition to the President, the other major state actor in Latin America has been the military. An important debate exists concerning the role of the military in either providing the social and economic infrastructure or the policing necessary for the personal security which provides citizens the opportunity for development. The history of military violation of human rights and their role in violently suppressing what were initially peaceful efforts to change an unequal and discriminatory status quo makes some people nervous about involving the military in the new "civic actions" of the 1990s. Yet in the context of states and societies with limited resources, some analysts feel that it would be a waste of talent and capability to exclude the military from performing these tasks. The experience of the U.S. Army corps of Engineers is often cited. The prerequisite, however, is civilian control of the military. In the absence of civil control, it is argued, we may have a repeat of the 1960s experiences of Brazil and Peru, in which militaries "learned" from their experiences with social infrastructure development programs that politicians and democracies could not alleviate the root causes of conflict. In addition, some analysts argue that military influence in foreign affairs makes a nation’s foreign policy less attuned to human needs and more focused on military factors.
The new missions of the Nicaraguan military are constitutionally very extensive, including helping out with patrolling the border, providing security in rural areas, respecting and promoting human rights, combating drug related activities, the illegal traffic of people and goods across the border, establishing a new ecological order, the search for a new order in international relations and civil defense. The Colombian constitution of 1991 increases civilian control over the military by increasing legislative oversight of its operations and creating a civilian dominated National Security Council. In addition, President Gaviria named the first civilian Defense Minister in forty years. The new constitution still allows constitutional authorities to utilize the military for maintaining internal order, however.
Reform of the judiciary and the police is an enormous task, even in established political systems like the Colombian and Mexican, not to mention the evolving ones of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The problem is not just the impunity with which certain social groups act against the marginalized populations, but also that the police are themselves often at the service of the exploiters or so overzealous in their efforts to maintain "order" that they dramatically abuse the very citizens whom they are supposed to protect.
Finally, a growing number of peace analysts and activists are becoming more interested in the economic agencies of the state. These advocates want more effort paid to the social safety net, which they feel has inadequate resources compared with those dedicated to the structural adjustment of the economy and downsizing of the state. This is not an argument for keeping the state large and omnipotent. Rather it requires a smaller and more responsive state with strengthened state regulatory and development agencies to perform necessary tasks to facilitate peace and prosperity for those whom the market would exploit in the short to medium term.
International Organizations. Latin American states and citizens are proud to be members of the world community, so they have become involved in international organizations which have an impact on the post Cold War world order. They believe that the United Nations, in particular, has an important role to play in conflict prevention and resolution. Latin American states which participate in multiple UN peacekeeping missions have enjoyed popular support. The presence of a more broadly based international organization in Central America was particularly important to those who saw the OAS as too closely allied to the U.S. In addition, many want international organizations to be vigilant of human rights in their own countries, because governments which are fighting internal pacification programs cannot be expected to watch these things carefully.
The Role of Advanced Industrialized Countries. During the Cold War, many Latin American governments and citizens feared the North would exploit them. Today the fear is that Latin America may be ignored at a time when it needs the expertise, resources and even goodwill of the North if it is to succeed in building peace and prosperity. Analysts are not just referring to economic relations, important as they are in the context of globalization. For the issue of deadly conflict, they see a need for Northern participation in conflict resolution processes such as has occurred in Central America. In conflict prevention efforts the participation of the North is perhaps even more important, since many of the weapons come from the North and the sanctions threatened by Northern markets could have a large impact in deterring violent action, especially against democratic institutions.
The challenge of coordination among the tasks and actors, and the importance of leadership. The recognition that coordination and leadership is necessary stimulates Latin American to seek greater cooperation amongst themselves. It is commonplace to encounter rejection of any mention that the U.S. should lead, especially when security is equated with an inter-American military focus, as was the case under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR). An interesting suggestion was made by one analyst that the U.S. should avoid four errors in the current context: 1) quickly throw together a "Grand Design" for the hemisphere, ideologically based and underfunded; 2) promote a hemispheric scheme which is more oriented towards events outside the region than within; 3) unilateral interventions, particularly with Rapid Deployment Forces; and 4) innovations (such as demands for compulsory arbitration on border disagreements) which threaten to upset the progress already made by parties in negotiations.
The Latin American leaders who have demonstrated an ability to focus regional attention have been ex-President of Costa Rica and Nobel Prize winner Arias and whoever happens to be President of the big three, Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Among organizations, the Comision Sudamericana para la Paz played an important role at one time, and now the Peace and Security in the Americas group is stimulating much work, although it is hard to know how much influence it has on policymakers at this time.
Tools for Preventive Action: Recommendations
In this section I will discuss seven of the recommendations included in the Commission’s Second Report and add three more which various Latin American analysts have suggested. I am less familiar with the local level development literature and therefore will not discuss recommendations to promote accountable governance-including effective and judicious policing, an independent judiciary, and other attributes of a just democracy-- as a means of maintaining order in unstable circumstances, improve health standards and practices, minimize illiteracy, or manage resources and technology to derive the greatest benefit for the greatest number, including in particular, husbanding land and water resources to help ensure adequate food production.
1. Control, reduce and eventually eliminate Weapons of Mass Destruction. These efforts have a long history in Latin America, beginning with the Treaty of Tlatelolco of 1967. While it is true that the key countries (U.S., Argentina, Brazil and Cuba) did not sign on at the time, Cuba is no longer a concern and Argentina and Brazil have now agreed not to proliferate. In 1991 Argentina, Brazil and Chile signed accords to proscribe chemical and biological weapons. The countries also did not let problems with constructing chemical and biological proscription regimes at the international level derail agreements reached at the subregional level. They subsequently signed the Cartagena Agreement, forswearing all weapons of mass destruction.
2. Control trade in conventional weapons. The discussion of various arms control measures is a major enterprise in Latin America today. The Argentine Ambassador to the OAS, Hernan Patino Mayer, was a major advocate for the creation of an obligatory arms registration agreement in the region, attached to UN efforts. Costa Rica had difficulty while negotiating the Treaty for Democratic Security in Central America, because efforts to limit military budgets were derailed in discussions concerning establishment of adequate levels; this development suggests ongoing difficulties with military spending levels. More generally, the 1995 Ecuador-Peru war produced a setback for arguments that the old threat to territorial sovereignty had passed in Latin America; instead there are new pressures for increased expenditures. Even Argentina, with perhaps the weakest military in terms of domestic influence, is asking to be designated a "major non-NATO ally" so as to be eligible for surplus U.S. military equipment and rebuild its armed forces on the cheap.
Once again President Arias has staked out a bold position. In conjunction with eleven other Nobel Peace Lauriats, he has proposed a Code of Conduct concerning the arms trade. It requires increased control and vigilance of arms trade, including registries of arms produced and sold, plus international collaboration to exchange the intelligence which allows one to increase the transparency in the trade. A successful code will require international cooperation, not just Latin American, otherwise there will be loopholes via those countries not participating in the code.
3. Promote the establishment of stable, democratic governments. For Latin Americans today discussion of how to promote stable and democratic governments means focusing above all else on the questions of governability and civilian control over the military. Governability is a broad term which essentially conveys the idea that a political system has sufficient legitimacy with all the competing sectors of society that each is willing to compromise in order that the system survive. This understanding gives the government an ability to contain social tensions and process unsatisfied demands via creative policies. To a Latin American the concept has great meaning, coming after a time in which civil society was willing to trash the old democratic systems rather than compromise. As such it is a powerful symbol: Chilean leaders agreed to a Pact of Governability when the clash between defenders and reformers of the Constitution (written by the military government in 1980 and revised just before turning the government back to the people in 1989) threatened to escalate.
For most Latin Americans strengthening democratic governments also means consolidating civilian control over the military. Civil control in a democratic context is expected to produce fewer domestic and international conflicts. But Monica Hirst has raised the interesting question of whether different degrees of civilian control have important implications for peace, even with consolidated democracies. She is leaning toward an affirmative answer, but it is still too early for the evidence to be convincing either way.
Another way to strengthen democracy is to increase its reputation and standing in the region by committing the Inter-American community to its defense. The OAS recently adopted the view that a threat to democracy in any Western hemisphere nation automatically constituted a threat to the security of all American nations. The Miami Summit of American Nations seconded this view and the first hemispheric meeting of Ministers of Defense followed suit. As a result, diplomatic and economic sanctions were imposed on coup leaders in Haiti in 1991, Peru in 1992, and Guatemala in 1993, and the threat of sanctions recently helped avoid a coup in Paraguay.
The Group of Eight suspended Panama’s membership after its fraudulent elections in 1988. Subsequently, when democratic processes were upset in Peru, Guatemala, Haiti, and Paraguay Latin American states imposed or threatened economic and diplomatic sanctions. Mexico and Cuba, however, demonstrate the limits to Latin America’s (as well as the U.S. in the case of Mexico) willingness to act: Mexico was not sanctioned in 1988 despite widely documented fraudulent elections and Latin Americans do not see the continuation of Fidel Castro’s government in power as a threat to hemispheric security.
Latin America’s willingness to use international sanctions to promote and defend democracy does not extend to use of military force. Latin America largely opposed utilizing violence to combat violence in Haiti. Among the major Latin American states only Argentina supported the idea of using military force to remove Haitian usurpers. The proposals for a hemispheric cooperative security regime pushed by the Paz y Seguridad group is very conservative on this point. After warning against the UN Agenda for Peace emphasis on the diminution of sovereignty in the contemporary world, the group goes on to warn that once the principle of multilateral interventions is accepted it can easily be applied to a variety of issues.
4. Champion the rule of law as the basis for regulating social interaction at all levels. The buzz word in Latin America for this issue is "Estado de Derecho". Both the right and the left use it against each because the laws themselves privilege some outcomes over others (i.e., by what is defined as legal and illegal). But the basic point upon which all sides agree is that the rule of law provides credibility among competing actors. It is therefore, fundamentally important when bringing together social groups who have just been involved in deadly conflict. The most interesting conceptualization of the Estado de Derecho is that of the Executive Secretary of the Comision Sudamericana para la Paz: it derives from popular sovereignty and the reign of justice.
6. Promote creation of a robust civil society to help diverse groups thrive in proximity. In Latin America one of the key social divides is ethnicity. The region had avoided widespread ethnic conflict for the past half century, mainly by continued demobilization and isolation of indigenous communities. Now that these communities are newly empowered and seeking to defend their rights, tensions could escalate if not handled well. It is particularly surprising to see how unaware mestizo society was of the large scale and efficient organization among indigenous peoples until the large scale uprisings in Ecuador in 1990 and Mexico in 1994.
For many mestizo analysts achievement of a stable multiethnic society would be helped out greatly by promoting local NGOs. Because they are not tied into the reigning distribution of social and economic power, they can serve as honest brokers among the groups. But the indigenous communities have made extensive efforts on their own to avoid needless antagonisms. Thus in Ecuador leaflets explain the demands of indigenous peoples and specifically state that they are not seeking independence nor do they see their demands as anti-mestizo.
7. Promote economic development in ways that can be indigenously absorbed and sustained. We should understand that the need for sustainable economic development extends to poor mestizo peasants as well as indigenous communities. It is particularly important for development aid to promote education and alternative crops for peasants growing illegal ones. The "Alliance for the Sustained Development of Central America" agreement reached at the presidential summit of 1994 calls for the respect of cultural and ethnic diversity in the development process. This requires not just promoting economic development, but also socio-economic reforms that distribute resources more broadly. In Ecuador, the newly mobilized Amazonian peoples argue that delimiting the physical frontiers among ethnic groups will lead to a more rational and optimal use of the nation’s resources.
8. Refine institutions and processes for nonviolent dispute resolution and promote conflict resolution strategies based on mutual accommodation. getting the military out of the business of ensuring domestic order is a fundamental first step for many analysts in refining institutions and conflict resolution processes. But in the Latin American context it also raises the controversial question of justice for violators of human rights in a country’s authoritarian past. Arias stands at one end of the spectrum when he declares that "it is still necessary for the Latin American family to attain reconciliation, but not at the expense of pardoning all of the crimes of those who committed them." At the other extreme stands Uruguayan president Sanguinetti: "we pardoned terrorists, who had some responsibility for the violations of human rights, so it is natural to have amnestied the military as well." The 1989 plebiscite in Uruguay supported Sanguinetti’s position with 55.4% of the vote. Even Argentina finally passed a law limiting prosecution to those who gave orders, rather than those lower down who actually tortured and "disappeared" people. President Menem wound up pardoning leadership and instituting a controversial amnesty law covering past human rights abuses.
The framing of an issue plays an important role in negotiations between adversaries. We have already seen how important Arias’ definition of the situation in Central America was in overcoming the pitfalls that derailed the Contadora process. Tokatlian and Pardo note that an important aspect of Colombia’s ability to negotiate with the guerrillas was the switch in how the government defined the situation: President Betancour changed the country’s strategy from a focus on "internal violence as a product of international violence" (links to Cuba and Nicaragua), to "national peace is linked to international peace." The new definition opened up new opportunities; symbols and signs in the negotiations indicated that the military option was being discarded or downplayed.
None of the recommendations by Latin Americans to the prevention or resolution of deadly conflict has been particularly unique to Latin America. But there are three areas in which Latin American analysts address issues which relate more specifically to their own reality.
More efforts to control/reduce demand for drugs in AIC. Drug trafficking has wrecked havoc on many local communities and even entire countries in Latin America. There are few calls for legalizing the production and export of drugs in Latin America, although the violence of the last 15 years is beginning to push some analysts to discuss it, not as a solution, but as an aid in the effort to combat consumption. There is, however, a sense that Latin America is paying the bulk of the costs of the war on drugs, even as the consumption which drives the market occurs largely in the advanced industrialized nations, with the U.S. as the dominant consumer. Analysts are interested in developing a means to transfer more costs of fighting the problem to consuming countries. This strategy requires cooperation among producing countries so as to negotiate better deal with consumers, including the U.S.
Small arms registration and control. While most analysts in the U.S. think of controlling conventional weapons in the military sphere, the issue looks very different from Latin America. The export of small arms from the U.S. to Latin America dramatically aggravates the problem of deadly conflict. There is thus an increasingly vocal demand in Latin America that the U.S. cooperate on regulating the flow of small arms to the region. In an interesting twist to what we commonly hear in the U.S., on this matter Latin America wants the U.S. to control its borders!
Maintain stable local balances. Another difference between how the U.S. looks at Latin America and how it looks at itself lies in the area of deterrence. Many Latin American civilian and military analysts perceive the need to militarily deter aggression or adventures by neighbors. The U.S. doesn’t see why Latin American nations would fight each other, and hence chalk this talk up to militarists. But some very respected Latin American advocates of democracy and civilian control over the military see an uncertain world and believe that prudence in the defense of a nation’s interest requires that it have a minimal deterrent force. For these analysts, the success of confidence building measures depends upon partners perceiving that risks of betrayal are low because the military balance is stable. This perspective informs their suggestions for international cooperation in order to modernize, rebuild and professionalize the armies of the region.