A Day of Peace: For the Americas

EDITORIAL, 24 Sep 2012

#236 | Johan Galtung, 24 Sep 2012 - TRANSCEND Media Service

From Puebla, México – Universidad de las Americas, 21 Sep 2012

Today is the 2012 day of peace as resolved by the UN General Assembly (Resolution 55/282, 2001; following resolution 56/37, 1981). A day of cease-fire and nonviolence, but open to all peace themes.

And that brings us straight to the key problem in the theory and practice of peace:

Are we thinking of the negative peace of cease-fire and no violence (as distinct from nonviolence), or are we thinking of the positive peace of cooperation for mutual and equal benefit, empathy for emotional harmony, reconciliation of past traumas, and resolution capacity for endless agenda of future conflicts?

Are we thinking of using nonviolence?  Or of persuading, or forcing, those with serious grievances to lay down their arms and reintegrate peacefully in civilian life?  Or trying to understand and do something deeper, about the grievances?

Both-And is not an answer to be ruled out, like having both growth and distribution as goals of development, that other big UN word. But, a big BUT: not one first, and then the other.  That tends to work out as cease-fire first, and then nothing; or as growth first, and then nothing, presumably waiting for time to ripen.  But that time has a tendency not to come for two simple reasons: for those high up the problem is the violence, not the grievances, which constitute “their” problem. And growth is what they feed on, distribution being again “their” problem.

These are existential, not philosophical problems for countries like México and Colombia, with huge violent activity within a syndrome that has narcotraffic as a part.  The traditional approach is to use the ultima ratio of the state–police, military and paramilitary–to fight, kill, uproot the violence.  And, if that does not work, try to negotiate a cease-fire. But the underlying causes have a tendency to reproduce the violence, with democracies pushing that problem onto the next administration and dictatorships becoming even more brutal.

We do ourselves a huge disfavor if we accept only the task of negative peace, curing symptoms and not the disease.  Like ice against fever.

Let us look at five concrete American cases for both negative and positive peace: 1-Malvinas-Falklands; 2-Cuba; 3-Drugs/arms flows; 3-Flagrant inequality; 4-US interventionism, and 5-Micro-management of South America & the Caribbean vis-à-vis the northern countries.  Mantra: no lasting negative peace without positive peace.

Malvinas-Falklands exploded in 1982 as a war by the South on the North, something new at the time; won by the UK.  “Peace”?  Not at all, no solution of the underlying conflict.  There is an obvious solution, the formula used in another place where the West had traveled too far and settled: Hong Kong-Macau.  One flag down another flag up, one garrison out another in, and the rest remains the same.  The sovereignty so obviously belongs to Argentina and to Latin America and the Caribbean, more collective these days for self-affirmation, for historical as well as geographical reasons. However, do respect the people.

Cuba is short on multi-party elections, but so have been most Latin American countries–-today, Honduras and Paraguay function under USA-supported coups–without being excluded from the Organization of American States.  Give Cuba an OAS membership right away, also to honor the first country to challenge the giant to the North and which has a leader surviving ten US presidents, most of which highly forgettable. Let us have some sense of history, please.

How about the people/drugs-traffic-in-return-for-arms/money syndrome? It is complex, but there are two handles: the narcotraffic has to be reduced from both ends, the supply and the demand, and by both doing their best to certify each other. Or even better, jointly, for their efforts. In addition, reduce the magnitude of the problem by legalizing marijuana, such a minor problem relative to the #1 health problem in the USA: tobacco and alcohol, both legal. The latter was once prohibited with disastrous consequences: violence, gangsterism, mafias. These disappeared with legalization but alcoholism did not go away; yet nor did it increase.

Underlying all of this, not the only factor but a major one, is, of course, flagrant inequality, injustice, exploitation.  The key approach is to lift up the bottom. Give micro-credits to the most needy in the most miserable communities, with small companies producing basic necessities products–above all food, water, health and education–for and by the most needy; empowering them to lift themselves up without threatening the rich. The key impediment is not technical.  This is all feasible within, say, 5-10 years, but those high up fear that “they will treat us the way we treated them”.  This fear has to be addressed and alleviated.  The poor want equal opportunity, dignity.

Feasible, like using student volunteers for alphabetization, like training barefoot nurses for the most frequent diseases, combined with helicopters to adequate hospitals, using herbs and generic drugs.

Then, the inter-Americas dimension: the 100 or so US military interventions and the present emergence on the horizon of Los Estados Unidos de América Latina y el Caríbe.  It is as natural as the independence of the British colonies on the Atlantic seaboard in 1775, with a famous Declaration in 1776 and a US constitution in 1787.  How would a mature USA react?  “Welcome, brothers from the South!  We know what this is about, and will not repeat the stupidity of London, fighting 35 years to prevent our independence.  We are no George III.  But how can we meet, in equity and harmony, solving our traumas and conflicts?”

A mature Latin American answer would be something like: “Turn the OAS into a dialogue forum! We cannot accept vetoes from the North against an almost united South, but are ready for dialogues on the Malvinas, Cuba, drugs/arms, misery; problems we will approach in our way, with open minds.”

And one further step: how about a MEXUSCAN, a North America of three countries (Mexico-US-Canada), revising the North American Free Trade Agreement-NAFTA for equality, and having Mexico as a bridge to the South?  With open borders, no fences, and with free flows of people and legitimate goods and services both ways?

Positive peace for the Americas in our lifetime.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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2 Responses to “A Day of Peace: For the Americas”

  1. Alberto Portugheis says:

    Dear Johan,

    You wish we had “…..positive peace of cooperation for mutual and equal benefit….”.

    This already exists and in big measure !!!! just a few examples: USA and Britain, they are at Peace with each other precisely because of their peaceful and positive cooperation for mutual and equal benefit. “Benefit” to them, as you well know, is not to them the same as for you and for me.

    For 45 years Russia and USA had a wonderful peaceful cooperation, which benefitted them greatly. They together happily destroyed many countries and killed millions.

    Angola had 27 years of cooperation with the UN Security Council countries. This is why they had 27 years of Civil War.

    Millions dead are NOT the concern of those who “cooperate”. At the moment there is peaceful cooperation between the Governments of Pakistan and USA, for their mutual benefit. The fact that this “benefit” means drones flying over Pakistan, killing hundreds, is of no relevance at all to anybody.

    Switzerland has peaceful cooperations with many countries, for their mutual benefit.

    Only the demilitarization of the world will bring cooperation without war.


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