Volume 3 Number 10
Central America '- Ingredients of Peace
01 November 1990
The fighting in Central America has dragged on for decades. In May 1989 we published a profile of Guatemalan activist Eliezer Cifuentes, who only just escaped a hail of bullets and was forced into exile in Costa Rica. There he struggled with `the tigers of hatred in my heart for the military, whom I blamed for the attempt on my life, and for the US which I felt was backing them'.
The intercontinental arms industry gets a lot of attention, but we hear less about people in one war-torn area helping those in another move towards peace.
The fighting in Central America has dragged on for decades. In May 1989 we published a profile of Guatemalan activist Eliezer Cifuentes, who only just escaped a hail of bullets and was forced into exile in Costa Rica. There he struggled with `the tigers of hatred in my heart for the military, whom I blamed for the attempt on my life, and for the US which I felt was backing them'. He decided to go home and meet the officer who he thought had given the order, believing that God had `laid on my heart the reconciliation of the military and civilian population'.
This courageous step led him to convene a Dialogue in Costa Rica in June on `the role of the military in the peace process'. To it came 22 from the Americas and two from Africa: General Joseph Lagu, a Sudanese guerrilla leader who is now his country's Ambassador to the UN; and Alec Smith, who was closely involved in the run-up to Zimbabwean independence in the Seventies.
In September, both men returned to Central America for a conference in El Salvador organized by the Supreme Court of justice in conjunction with Moral ReArmament. This event took place in the Palace of justice and its opening was carried on national television along with news of the government's latest negotiations with the FMLN guerrillas.
Supreme Court President Dr Mauricio Gutierrez Castro described `the moral and spiritual element as perhaps the most fundamental ingredient of a just and solid peace. It is not a matter of power or politics but of the need for a change in each one of us.'
General Lagu was questioned at the conference for an hour and a half and said that in his experience guerrillas do not initially hope for a military victory but `want their cause to be heard. If you allow crisis to come into your country, foreigners with their interests will come in. If you make peace they will withdraw.'
A group of US lawyers participated in the gathering, and on their behalf Michael Olson from Minnesota said they had come humbly, aware of Americans' past mistakes and paternalism. `Justice,' he said, `requires our personal participation and hearing God's call, often through the voice of the oppressed, the poor and the powerless. Dialogue is not just an option but an imperative. It has a value in itself, showing respect for the other person.' A workshop on `active listening' was conducted by US Mediation Counsellors Larry Hoover and Beryl Blaustone.
Alec Smith tole the TV reporters, ‘The history of my country can be described as the history of 15 years of talks that failed. The decisive moment came when people from both sides said: Stop! The final conditions for peace weren't so different from the former ones. What was different was the etermination for peace of those around the table.'
A message went from the conference to the current peace talks in Costa Rica. `Our experience,' it said, `leads us to ask the negotiators to reflect in silence on the following: in a negotiated settlement, the result is always equidistant from the interests of each side, but favouring what is just for the great majority of the people.'