This month marks 25 years since the signing of the Esquipulas II agreement in Guatemala that brought an end to the wars of Central America. On Wednesday, August 15, 2012, I attended an event at OAS headquarters sponsored by the Organization of American States, the Center for International Policy, and the Inter-American Dialogue that commemorated the anniversary.
Many of the principals from the time –including Oscar Arias, Costa Rica‘s former President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Vinicio Cerezo, former Guatemalan President; Eduardo Stein, former Guatemalan Vice President and ex-Minister of Foreign Relations; and Michael Barnes, former chair of the U.S. House Western Hemisphere Affairs Subcommittee–spoke at the event. Cynthia Arnson of the Woodrow Wilson Center, Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, and Nicaragua’s former Ambassador Arturo Cruz of the Instituto Centroamericano de Administración de Empresas (INCAE) also provided commentary, as did many OAS, government, and diplomatic luminaries in the audience.
The speakers each had their own version of how Esquipulas II came to pass, its significance for the region, and its lessons for Central America today. All agreed that–building on the work of Contadora, the Rio Group, and Esquipulas I–Esquipulas II was the watershed event that finally propelled the Central American region from war to peace. All spoke of the work still left to be done. President Cerezo called for a new social contract–an Esquipulas III–that would move the region beyond the formal democracies now in place toward greater social inclusion and equity. President Arias observed that, “In Central America, we have peace, democracy, and development, but we lack quality in each of these.”
Many spoke of the crisis facing youth, who make up 70% of the population of Central America. Cynthia Arnson noted that the proliferation of gangs in the region has gone hand-in-hand with the lack of opportunities for young people.
Ingredients for Success
Despite the unfinished peace agendas remaining in Central America, I can’t help but think about the lessons Esquipulas II might offer for peace in Colombia. What were the key ingredients that contributed to the successes of Esquipulas II? Many elements come to mind: Leadership. Vision. Political will. Patience. Persistence. Willingness to dialogue with everyone, even the so-called “enemy”. A clear road map from within the region.
Mutual commitments to a process–what Cerezo called a “camino previo”–that allowed a regional and domestic consensus favoring a political solution to be built over time. International backing and engagement by the UN, OAS, and others to reinforce the call for peace and support implementation of a peace plan.
Other factors also mattered. Transnational civil society engagement for peace, including lobbying efforts in the United States by churches, academics, and NGOs were critical to shifting U.S. policy. Educators, health workers, unionists, lawyers, journalists, artists, and war veterans, among others, contributed to peace efforts within their own sectors. Military and business calculuses also came to favor peace.
Despite some differences in the nature of the conflicts, these ingredients seem relevant for Colombia’s recipe for peace. President Cerezo noted the courage it took to promote a political solution when a military path was being pursued. Speakers affirmed the urgency of regional approaches and solutions both then and now. Likewise in Colombia.
The question remains one of political will and leadership. What more would it take to garner the political will and leadership for peace in Colombia today that Esquipulas II generated 25 years ago? Worth pondering.