Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Grassroots Reconciliation Stories from Post-Conflict Nicaragua

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Grassroots Reconciliation Stories from Post-Conflict Nicaragua

Article excerpt

How do actors formerly involved in violent conflict reconcile, particularly in the absence of a government-led top down effort? This article analysing grassroots reconciliation efforts during the fifteen years following the civil war of the 1980s in Nicaragua. As a result of extensive rounds of interviews with actors and opinion leaders from both sides as well as members of the international community in volved in the peace building process, the study concludes that today, after two decades of peace, many Nicaraguans have advanced from negative coexistence to full reconciliation. Faced with the absence of effective 'trickle down' policies on the elite level to help this process along, Nicaraguans have found their own ways of reconciliation. Examples for both, the successes as well as the failures to reach reconciliation, are presented.

From Coexistence to Reconciliation

Peacebuilding in countries who have experienced internal armed conflict often concentrates on the essentials: the physical reconstruction of the country, security sector reform, changes in the political and economic structure, and the creation of a democratic system and conflict resolution mechanisms able to deal with future crises in a more constructive way. Reconciliation between former enemies that now forcibly share a common living space is often expected to be a by-product of those processes which will sooner or later automatically occur if democratic liberalization has taken roots. Thus, in many post-conflict countries, societies live side by side with each other in a form of coexistence that resembles the relationship between the two superpowers in the post-war scenario: while mutual extermination is no longer achievable, cooperation is only attempted when absolutely necessary and reconciliation, so important for the sustainability of peace, is not on the agenda at all. Reconciliation, however, is a complex process. John Paul (1997), one of the fathers of the reconciliation concept, defined reconciliation as the rebuilding and transformation of sustainable, peaceful relationships, based on harmony and respect, a shared truth of what happened in the past, and why, as well as the acknowledgement of mutually inflicted wrong and equally mutual forgiveness, and the development of a common sense of security, identity and justice.

How do people move from negative, survival-oriented coexistence, in which they share a living space without reinitiating major armed conflict between them, towards positive, collaborative coexistence, in which former rival groups develop cooperative arrangements, thereby acknowledging their interdependence in the struggle for survival and improvement of the conditions of their life, and eventually to full reconciliation? Today, two decades after the bloody civil war of the 1980s, the majority of the Nicaraguan society appears to have made their peace with their former opponents, moving from negative coexistence over the stage of collaborative coexistence to full reconciliation. This is asurprising result considering the absence of sincere reconciliation efforts at the top. Based on interviews and field studies conducted in Nicaragua about five years ago, this article presents a number of examples from the grassroots level.

Top-Down Reconciliation Efforts in Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan civil war, a bitter conflict over ideological differences following the Sandinista guerrilla movement's overthrow of the country's dictatorship of the Somoza family in 1979, came to an end as part of the Central American peace process during the final years of the decade. While the Organization of American States (OAS) struggled with the task of organising and supervising the reinsertion over the Contra rebel forces that had formed to overthrow the socialist Sandinista government, the new post-war government's failure to provide for adequate reinsertion mechanisms contributed to a climate of high tension and continued violence in the country for years to follow. …

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