Academic journal article Global Governance

Moving beyond Mediation: The OAS Transforming Conflict in Guatemala

Academic journal article Global Governance

Moving beyond Mediation: The OAS Transforming Conflict in Guatemala

Article excerpt

In 1995-1996 the hemisphere's multilateral forum, the Organization of American States, launched a conflict prevention and management program in Guatemala entitled "Culture of Dialogue: Development of Resources for Peacebuilding in Guatemala." The overarching goal was to help Guatemalans address ongoing tensions and political disputes, particularly related to the implementation of the historic peace accords. This article provides a detailed account of this OAS attempt to prevent and diffuse conflict, suggesting that it represents a novel effort that draws heavily on the conflict transformation approach to conflict management. Still, it argues that, at the conceptual level, there appears to be a disconnect between this approach to conflict prevention and the Organization's broader approach to peacebuilding, which embraces a free-market path to development, including the implementation of market-oriented economic reforms. KEYWORDS: conflict prevention, Guatemala, Organization of American States, peacebuilding, reconstruction.

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Since the signing of the historic Guatemala Peace Accords (1) in December 1996, the hemisphere's multilateral political forum, the Organization of American States (OAS), has supported the country's fledgling democracy through various peacebuilding initiatives. Particularly relevant to the Guatemalan situation is the fact that the OAS recently expanded its peacebuilding agenda to include conflict resolution and prevention programs. (2) It is during the phase following the signing of peace accords that activities aimed at preventing a renewed outbreak of violent conflict are considered especially valuable. With this in mind, the Organization established a special program to help Guatemalans address ongoing tensions and political disagreements, particularly those related to the implementation of the peace accords. The program entitled "Culture of Dialogue: Development of Resources for Peacebuilding in Guatemala" (OAS/PROPAZ or PROPAZ) focused primarily on strengthening the capacities of governmental, civic, and community institutions to manage and resolve disputes in collaborative ways. (3)

This article explores OAS efforts to expand its peacebuilding work into the area of conflict prevention and management through an examination of the PROPAZ program (1995-2003). I do not set out to evaluate PROPAZ's empirical record per se, although I will offer a judgment in this regard. I provide, instead, an informed account of the program's work in order to highlight a shift in OAS peacebuilding theory and practice. I argue that, although the OAS continues to practice conventional peacebuilding work that emphasizes technical assistance to member states, it recently has adopted conflict management approaches that entail greater engagement with civil society actors. Still, at the conceptual level, there appears to be a disconnect between this newer conflict prevention work and the Organization's broader peacebuilding approach, which Roland Paris has termed liberal internationalism. (4) The PROPAZ approach, which places emphasis on the question of social justice and rejects the objective of restoring the status quo ante, sits uncomfortably within a paradigm that privileges order and stability and views social justice as a low priority. Finally, I argue that, although the adoption of this new more comprehensive approach to conflict prevention is praiseworthy, it was not systematically applied in the case of Guatemala. Crucial societal actors related to land conflicts (the private sector and the military) were not invited to participate in the intersectoral or zonal components of the program. While large landowners were invited, they could not be persuaded to participate. Given the critical role of these actors in past and current conflicts, their absence reduces PROPAZ's ability to act as an agent of lasting change.

This article serves one other purpose. Andy Knight has rightly noted the lack of conceptual clarity when it comes to peacebuilding. …

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