Latin America: The leading edge

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Latin America continues to take the lead in the transition to a culture of peace.

As indicated by this month’s CPNN Bulletin, the continent was the first to establish city culture of peace commissions, as well as city commissions for components such as human rights in Sao Paulo and sustainable development in Aguascalientes.  Also the invocation of the culture of peace as the basis for the Union of South American States (UNASUR) was a pioneering development.

Now, we can add to this list of innovations, the development of the culture of peace at a regional level in Brazil, Peru and Mexico.  As discussed, this is an important new step since a region can be self-sustaining with regard to its agricultural basis, unlike the city.

In fact, Latin America has always been at the leading edge.  The initial concept came in 1986 from an initiative in Peru headed by the Jesuit scholar Felipe MacGregor.  The first national project was in El Salvador in 1993, and that experience was the basis for the adoption of the culture of peace programme by the Executive Board and General Conference of UNESCO.  The further development of the culture of peace as a social movement came in 1994 from a  “Group of Reflection” of Latin American experts in association with UNESCO.  It was the representatives from Latin American countries at the United Nations in New York that began in 1995 the annual resolutions which led eventually to the UN Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.  And the initial call for an International Year for the Culture of Peace came from a meeting of Latin American newspaper editors in Puebla, Mexico, in 1997.

The second and third largest number of signatures on the Manifesto 2000, by which individuals promised to support a culture of peace in their daily lives, came from Brazil (15 million) and Colombia (11 million).

During the International Decade for a Culture of Peace from 2001-2010, the rich countries, including Europe and the United States and their allies, refused to support the culture of peace, including its annual UN resolutions.  On the other hand, the countries of Latin America were outstanding in their support.  For example, at the midpoint of the Decade, the UN resolution was signed by the following countries of Latin America and the Caribbean: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Boliva, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Granadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

Latin America has taken the lead in a number of other related initiatives.  The Earth Summit that took place in Brazil in 1992 was the turning point in the development of sustainable development.  And the practice of participatory budgeting which is revolutionizing democratic participation began as an initiative of the Workers Party of Brazil when they were in charge of the city government of Porto Allegre.

I expect that the leadership from Latin America will continue.  For this reason, I wrote in my utopian novel, I Have Seen the Promised Land, that the key moment in the transition of the United Nations from control by nation states to control by city and regional governments would come at a global meeting that takes place in Porto Allegre, Brazil, in the year 2021.  I wrote that five years ago, and now we have only eight more years before 2021.  But so far, given the continuing leadership from Latin America, I would still make the same prediction.

A Vision of the New Generation

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As described in this month’s CPNN bulletin, the youth participants at the Budapest training were inspired to continue their activism for a better world.  I, too, was inspired, and it has led me to imagine a roadmap for the global transition from culture of war to culture of peace.

I see a tremendous multiplier effect in the enthusiasm of the new generation.  They are rebellious and optimistic.  They believe a better world is possible, and they are willing to struggle for it.

I have a vision of them as trainers of trainers to multiply their rebellion and optimism.

The effects of their training are global since they are connected by Internet, by their travels, and by their ability to speak many languages.  I think of the young trainers I worked with in Budapest: one from the Philippines working in Spain; one from Switzerland having worked in the USA and Brazil; one from Portugal working in Italy; their conversations in Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, French, German with links to Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Hindu, etc., etc.

I imagine a network of CPNN websites in different languages, fed by reporters everywhere, and translated and shared on other language sites, so that wherever in the world there is action for a culture of peace, it is immediately shared and taken up and mirrored in actions elsewhere.

What will the actions be?  They will be as varied as this new generation has imagination.  We already saw this imagination in some of the responses of youth organizations in the 2006 report from 475 youth organizations:

* Training and workshops for youth on issues such as the culture of peace, conflict resolution and mediation, values and human rights.

* Vocational training and employment programmes

* Activities in the arts, creativity, music, theatre and dance.

* Intercultural and international exchanges and meetings, where youth activists get to know others,

* Promotion of networks, publishing and documenting their work, distributing the information widely, both online and on paper and by radio in local communities.

Perhaps you are saying that this kind of activity seems weak in comparison with the great power of nation states with their militaries and multi-national corporations with their enormous resources.  But I respond that the culture of war, be it the military might of states or the wealth of corporations is not sustainable.   It rises and it crashes.  On the other hand, human culture does not crash.  It grows.   Sometimes it grows rapidly; sometimes it grows slowly.  But it does not crash.  And the work of the new generation described above, makes it grow more rapidly.

As you can see, I believe, in the company of great sociologists, that history is ultimately determined, not by military might or the wealth of empires, but by the people themselves and their social consciousness.

Sowing the culture of peace: The International Day of Peace

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When I went to work in Mozambique on behalf of UNESCO to help develop a national culture of peace program in the early 90’s, my African friends criticized the European notion of building a culture of peace.  “No, they told me, you don’t build a culture of peace.  You cultivate it.”

The culture of war, on the other hand, is built.  Empires and their states are built on fear through domination, exploitation, control of information, and the development and use (or threat) of armed force.  Economic enterprises are constructed within this shield.  Entire economic systems are built, eventually to be ruled by speculation.  As a result the culture of war is not sustainable.  Fear is eventually overcome by courage, and the truth eventually will out.  Arms production exhausts the economy.  And speculation, like a house of cards, eventually crashes.  From time to time, these spectacular, unsustainable institutions collapse and leave space for the sustainable processes of culture.

And so human history, human culture, slowly, by fits and starts, makes its way forward.  Culture is not a state of being, but a process.  It is not static, but dynamic.  It is not built but cultivated.  As stated in the UN Declaration on a Culture of Peace (UN Resolution A-53-243), it consists of “values, attitudes, traditions and modes of behavior and ways of life.”  It is a social, not an individual process.  It is not “inner peace.”  Instead, it is political in the sense that Aristotle meant when he began his greatest work with “Man is a political animal”, linking the word “political” to “polis,” the city.

The process is not steady.  We may plant seeds and fail to see the results afterwards.  We may harvest fruit and have to wait for the winter before planting again.  But slowly, over time, the culture grows – that is our theme and our hope for the future.

There is a terrible urgency to what we are doing.  We know from history that when empires crash, there is great suffering, and there is an immediate cry to rebuild the structures of the culture of war that are stronger than ever – what is known as fascism.  If we are not prepared at that moment to make the transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace, we will risk a transition to fascism.

To help us attain universality for the culture of peace we need to continue involving the United Nations in this process.  Even though it is now controlled by states with their cultures of war, the time will come when we can reclaim the United Nations, as the Charter says, in the name of “We the peoples….”

Africa’s Contribution to a Culture of Peace

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It is not by accident that there is so much news from Africa for a culture of peace (see CPNN bulletin for August).  It reflects their cultural history.  Like people on other continents, the Africans always had culture of war at a tribal level, but with the exception of the Nile River Valley, they did not use war to create empires until the arrival of the Arabs and the Europeans.  And even then the division of Africa into warring nation-states was imposed by the Europeans.

Instead of the authority of empires, pre-colonial Africa was ordered by effective peace-making traditions of dialogue and mediation at the community level, often called the “palabre” (word).  They were based on respect for the elders (both men and women) and compromise among the many animist spiritual forces, unlike the supreme authority of monotheism imported by the Arabs and Europeans.

These traditions re-emerged during the freedom struggle in South Africa, both in the Peace Process involving local peace committees and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was presided over by Bishop Tutu.  And this month on CPNN, we see it re-emerging in the peace process in Somalia and the Gacaca commission in Rwanda, not to mention the work of the Elders, an initiative that was launched several years ago by Nelson Mandela in the African peace-making tradition.  We also see it in recent CPNN articles on a culture of peace featuring African women, artists, especially musicians, educators and journalists.  Wouldn’t it be great if the commercial media of the North could imitate the media in Africa that are dedicated to news for a culture of peace!

I say that the traditions are “re-emerging” because they were largely suppressed by the Europeans when the conquered Africa.   We came face to face with this when I was working at UNESCO and we started working on a National Culture of Peace Program for Burundi.  In pre-colonial times, there was a tradition of the Bashingantahe, elders who did mediation and  peace-making.  But they were systematically assassinated by the colonial power.   After all, peace-making is a kind of power since it unites people, and it is difficult to conquer a people that is united.  So what we did was to seek out a few Bashingantahe who were still functioning and help them to train a new generation.  As far as I know this initiative is still underway almost 20 years later.

I was at UNESCO during the years when the freedom movement of South Africa succeeded in creating a non-racist government, and we wanted to find financing to keep the Peace Process going, since it needed to be independent of the government.  Unfortunately, it was not possible to find money and the institutions lapsed.  However, the lessons gained at that time are still bearing fruit throughout Africa, and hopefully we will learn from them throughout the world.

In conclusion, we should recognize that the African people, with their unique peace-making traditions, can make a major contribution to the world historical transition to a culture of peace.   It remains to be seen how this may take place in the coming tumultuous years.  One thing seems certain to me – that it will not take place at the level of state power.  We have seen recently that the African elder, Kofi Annan, was unable to apply African peace-making methods to the situation in Syria.  He resigned because his advice was not heeded by the Europeans and Americans who preferred a military “solution.”  We have seen this before:  20 years ago Mohamed Sahnoun, the Algerian diplomat worked as the UN representative for the reconstruction of Somalia by involving elders, teachers and religious leaders in a true African peace-making approach.  His work was ruined by the American decision to “send in the marines.”  Like Kofi Annan, he resigned with a public denunciation of the military “solution.”

Once again, we cannot escape seeing that the transition to a culture of peace must involve new democratic structures instead of the nation-state with its “military solutions.”