The fourth annual Latin American Studies Conference was held on Tuesday, March 20 in Phillips Autograph Library. The conference—sponsored by the departments of Latin American and Latino Studies, anthropology and sociology, peace and conflict studies and political science along with the Center for International Programs—was titled “The Colombian Peace Process and Post-Conflict Challenges for Justice: Lessons from Latin America.”
The conference began with the presentation “Where Are We With The Colombian Peace Accords? Human Rights and Justice in Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities” by Gimena Sanchez. Beth Rubin followed her with her presentation, “‘We Remember This So a Scar Doesn’t Remain: The Politics and Practice of Memory in Post-Conflict Guatemala.” She conducted research in Guatemala, where she analyzed how the genocide was taught in Guatemalan schools using a variety of qualitative methods.
Her methods included an analysis of the national curriculum, observation of classes, interviews with teachers and administrators, discussion groups with students and an activity in which she presented students with 34 different images relating to Guatemalan government, history and culture. The students chose the three images that made them the most proud to be Guatemalan and the three images that represented Guatemala’s biggest national problems. Some of the images included in the list were indigenous Guatemalan Nobel Laureate for literature, Rigoberta Menchú, a fried chicken brand, famous luxury shopping malls, a family and Jesus. Rubin went to five different schools, which helped her research to span Guatemala’s class, ethno-racial and geographical divides.
The national curriculum mandates schools to educate students about the genocide and dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and to teach the Mayan language. Some schools with primarily European-descended Latino student bodies chose to only spend one class a month talking about the Maya, or “the people who came before,” as one pupil said it. Others, with more Maya students, chose to teach the Kaqchikel Mayan language.
Next there was a presentation on the research carried out by the Kroc Institute for international peace studies by Angela Lederach, Becca Mendez and Elise Ditta. The presenters spoke on the contract work the Kroc Institute did for the Colombian government for the peace accords.
They said that “while 50 percent of peace agreements fail, not all peace agreements are created equal. Peace agreements which focus exclusively on security fail 80 percent of the time, while peace agreements with a holistic focus that address some of the root causes of the violence fail 20 percent of the time.” The Colombian peace agreement between the government and the rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) does include sections on rural development, political participation and the illicit drug trade alongside the mandates of confiscation of the FARC’s weapons.
When asked by an audience member after their talk about what effect they believe the recent congressional elections and upcoming presidential elections might have on the peace process, one of the presenters responded that, “Often elections are turning points in peace processes, especially when a party comes to power who did not support the accords,” and that “the far right has a history of destabilizing the peace-process by labelling outspoken faces of peace as ‘with the FARC.’”
Finally, Max Yuri Gil from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia en Medellín spoke on, “The peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC Guerrillas: An Opportunity for Democratization (El acuerdo de paz entre el Gobierno colombiano y la guerrilla de las FARC: una oportunidad para democratización)” with Dr. Linda Stevenson, interim chair of the department of political science, serving as his interpreter.
Gil began by saying, “I’m going to tell you about the root of the problem,” and that among them was the large number of landless peasants who constitute Colombia’s perennial “agrarian problem.” He also said that the agreement tries to “treat drug addicts with a focus on public health rather than legal punishment.” Gil continued by saying that, “the FARC signed this peace because they saw that the way to power through democratic means was more open than ever while the way to power through armed means was almost closed … but it remains to be seen how the FARC will move from being an armed group to a political party,” which they are doing with express permission of the peace agreement.
Gil also explained the three main groupings in the conflict: the government supported with much foreign aid by the United States, the FARC and the Ejercito de Liberación Nacional (ELN) both supported by Cuba and Venezuela and many extreme right wing paramilitary groups funded in part by international corporations including the Coca-Cola corporation.
Inclement weather and the university closure caused the student poster presentation and reception to be delayed until last Thursday.
Biology and political science student Natalia Mosquera said that she believes that “Colombians are very tolerant of other ways of living and thinking, and America can learn from that. All of the dialogues of the peace accords took place in Cuba with representatives from Venezuela to respect the fact that the FARC wouldn’t feel safe conducting those talks in Colombia.” She also said, “If you work to moderate both extremes, you can come up with something positive.”
International relations and Spanish major Elizabeth Schultz said, “It’s important to understand why extreme groups exist, you have to understand why they’re there, because if you ignore them they’ll just continue to grow. If you know what caused them you can address it, even if you’re not in direct dialogue with those groups.”
Aaron Gallant is a third-year student majoring in urban and environmental planning with minors in anthropology, Spanish and Latin American and Latino studies. ✉ AG851503@wcupa.edu.