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Last Updated: 05/26/2003
Human Security as a Measure of Peace Building
Victor Valle

Victor Valle prefaces his Central American Diary with an historical summary

In the 1970’s the Central American region was boiling over: in Guatemala internal conflict armed was already 20 years old; El Salvador had a leftist guerilla organization fighting a rightist military political system, Nicaragua was facing the Sandinista struggle against the old dynastic Somoza dictatorship.


The Central American conflicts, although having endogenous roots of poverty, repression and social inequity, were fuelled by the Cold War.


The first half of the decade, in the 1980’s, was a time of social unrest and armed struggle in Central America. El Salvador’s civil war reached paramount levels and the US government was providing huge military assistance to the government based on an alliance of the rightist military and Christian Democrat politicians. (Incidentally, the first US military assistance for El Salvador was sent during the last months of the Carter Administration). In Nicaragua, forces of the leftist Sandinista government fought rightist irregular armed forced explicitly supported by the US government. Honduras played the role of military base for the armed forces supported by the United States government and in Guatemala the armed internal strife was reaching unforeseen and bloody stages. Costa Rica was heralding the flag of perpetual neutrality, proclaimed by President Monge (1982-1986).


In those times of armed struggle, all Central American countries were holding elections to choose their presidents, legislative bodies and local governments. Nicaragua held elections in 1984 to elect Sandisnist Daniel Ortega as President.  Guatemala, after the brief but bloody dictatorship of General Ríos Montt, elected Vinicio Cerezo, a Christian Democrat politician, President. Honduras, formerly ruled by military governments, consolidated its democracy electing the civilian politician, Jose Azcona de Hoyo. El Salvador, amidst a bloody civil war, had elected Christian Democrat Napoleón Duarte President. Finally, Costa Rica, the oldest democracy in Latin America, elected for president a social democratic politician and scholar: Oscar Arias (1986-1990).


In 1987, under the inspiration of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, the Central American presidents had a historic meeting in Guatemala and committed themselves to work, with a sense of independence from superpower influences, for political settlement in Central American conflicts . They outlined a procedure for the establishment of a firm and lasting peace in Central America. A Spanish newspaper (El País) labelled this action, as “the rebellion of the dwarfs”. In that year, President Arias became the Nobel Peace Laureate.


The political mood in the Central American region was inclined toward dialogue. Politicians of different, and sometimes antagonistic, ideological positions were able to sit together to discuss strategic issues and strive for consensus building even while the armed struggle continued.


Ten years after the Esquipulas II Declaration, the political situation in Central America had dramatically changed, for good. El Salvador and Guatemala had signed Peace Accords with the mediation of the United Nations, Honduras was no longer the surrogate military base of US Armed Forces, Nicaragua enjoyed a government that had defeated the Sandinists through elections, Costa Rica had consolidated its democratic political system, and Panama had recovered from the nightmare of Noriega’s rule and the trauma of the US invasion, in l989.


However, there are many outstanding issues and new threats have entered into the social reality. Evidently, as result of peace building processes, there is progress in political openness in Central America, and the basic political human rights are more respected than one or two decades ago. However, the socio-economic agenda has been neglected and the balance, at the moment, exhibits negative indicators in the region: poverty is rampant, petty crime threatens the streets of Central American countries, organized crime, often with international tentacles, carries out illicit activities in the trafficking of drugs, arms and persons, corruption permeates both government and non governmental organizations, huge numbers of citizens emigrate to industrialized countries and social integration, whose aim is to create a just society for all, is detrimentally affected.


People need to enjoy freedom from fear and freedom from want, the two pillars of human security. If peace-building processes are to be consolidated and result in positive changes for Central American societies, countries must take decision to enhance strategic programmes to approach and tackle problems in the realm of human security.


Indeed, Human Security may become a litmus test for the stability of peace building processes in Central America. Or, on the other side, negative performance in Human Security may mean portents warning new conflicts in the region.

Victor M. Valle is Professor of Human Security at The University for Peace; he was formerly a leading politician in San Salvador, and Inspector-General of the Civil Police.