un site de ressources pour la paix

Iréné est un site de ressources documentaires destiné à favoriser l’échange de connaissances et de savoir faire au service de la construction d’un art de la paix.
Ce site est porté par l’association
Modus Operandi

En librairie

Transformation de conflit, de Karine Gatelier, Claske Dijkema et Herrick Mouafo

Aux Éditions Charles Léopold Mayer (ECLM)


Lessons learned and prospects for the future

« What type of peace is possible in Guatemala? »

Mots clefs : Respect des droits humains | Respect des droits des populations autochtones | La responsabilité des autorités politiques à l'égard de la paix | La démocratie, facteur de paix | Accord de Paix | Conflit guatémaltèque | Elaborer un imaginaire pour la paix | Guatemala

Answering the question of what type of peace is possible in Guatemala requires that we return to the debate between maximalists and minimalists over the process and its prospects. As both sides agree that the actual conclusion of the war — as stipulated in operational commitments of the Accords — was a success, our discussion bypasses this aspect.

There are few cases in which disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of insurgents have taken place so quickly and efficiently, managing to maintain a secure environment for the former guerrillas. As discussed above, the two major problems in this area are the long-term sustainability of support for the demobilized, and the fact that not all actors in the conflict were covered.

The latter issue arises because while the Accords covered demobilized members of the Guatemalan Army, they did not take into account the huge contingents of pro-government militias that may have numbered close to one million men. The international community was strongly opposed to the Civil Defence Patrols (PAC) because of their role in human rights violations, and government negotiators opted not to defend them at the peace table. Consequently, the only references to these militias in the Accords have to do with their dissolution. There are no stipulations for their reintegration, something that has since generated major problems of governance.

Today sustainable peace relies on the substantive Accords, explained above. In the maximalist perspective, the depth and complexity of the root causes of the conflict mean that only comprehensive observance of the commitments can really guarantee peace, lead to broad structural change and, as a result, to the gradual emergence of a new country.

Therefore, while time frames and operational mechanisms may be needed, the maximalist proposal is that the state and society continue to implement the Accords, including the “new generation” commitments that arise along the way, until comprehensive observation is achieved. It is also expected that the international community will continue to support the process. Additionally, maximalists believe that compliance is feasible and that sluggish observance has been due to lack of political will, financial difficulties, and the actions of spoilers.

The minimalist perspective, on the other hand, questions the very structure of the Accords and their ambitious mandate. Minimalists do not believe that historically evolved social and economic structures can be totally renovated by political mandate. Excessively ambitious goals may initially unleash great enthusiasm but lead to frustration and to an erosion of the idea of peace.

From this point of view, it was never possible to fully implement the substantive content of the Accords because of conditions in Guatemala. Thus, efforts at comprehensive compliance should be discontinued and we should settle for what has been achieved to date. What remains should be considered regular development agendas, desirable goals that are not constrained by short time frames and that maintain certain areas of concentration, for example education policy (1).

The maximalist thesis is still the official position, adopted by MINUGUA and in the discourse of the three governments that have held office since peace was signed. Presidents Alvaro Arzú and Alfonso Portillo concurred that the state is bound by the Accords and that these should be observed in their entirety and within the stipulated time frames. However, the current government, headed by President Oscar Berger who took office in January 2004, faces a different situation. With MINUGUA’s mandate ended and the closing stages of the second compliance schedule, it is evident that a considerable part of the commitments has not been met (2). Thus, it seems reasonable to doubt whether compliance will be at all possible.

Nonetheless, the Berger government has once again ratified state commitment to the Accords and has proposed a concentration along three core lines and a new ambitious structure. In practice these plans change the original strategy of the Accords as the general mapping of commitments will probably be left by the wayside. The effort means to concentrate the follow-up on a smaller group of commitments, those that represent the core of the agreements.

The thinking appears to be that the limited resources that hampered compliance on schedule could nonetheless be effective if concentrated in a more demarcated field. A central element of the new strategy has been to legalize the Accords. The Framework Law for the Peace Accords was passed by Congress in August 2005, a consensual proposal negotiated between civil society and the state in a long process that ended in 2003.

The new legislation recognizes the Accords as commitments of the state and sets up the National Council for Compliance with the Peace Accords (CNAP) with representatives from political parties, the state and civil society. One new element added to the structure is the so-called Coordination for Social Participation and Consultation composed of civil society representatives in support of compliance. Another is the inclusion of a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representative as permanent observer. The CNAP will take over from the National Peace Commission (3) once the new structure is set up.

The new strategy provides for national coverage through a support network that would even involve the Urban and Rural Development Councils (4). The plan also emphasizes that in this phase the government will rely on national actors, scaling down the front line role of the international community. This decision may mean that the government is banking on national capacity to achieve sustainability.

Relaunching the Peace Accords is based on three priorities: a) dialogue and participation of Indigenous Peoples, b) sustainable rural development, and c) reparations for victims.

The structure for implementation starts in the office of the Vice President, follows through to the National Peace Commission and includes five working tables on the issues of rural development, Indigenous Peoples and multiculturalism, human rights and culture of peace, follow-up on the Fiscal Pact, security and defense. This structure will rely on a network that will include the dialogue and participation tables at the national and departmental levels, as well as on the Development Councils.

An assessment of what has been accomplished also relates to the debate between maximalists and minimalists. In addition to what has already been said about implementation of the operational Accords, compliance with the substantive agenda has also had significant advances. Among the most noteworthy are the following:

  • a) Demilitarization and strengthening of civilian power.

The military overflowed its confines during the war and under authoritarianism, influencing the entire state apparatus and expanding into control of civil society. Under these conditions, demilitarization was a central goal of the peace process.

It is fair to say that, in general, this goal has been achieved. The size and budget of the Guatemalan Army have been reduced; the institution is in the process of reconverting and is subordinated to civilian power. The military continues to participate in internal security, mandated by the government to do so.

  • b) Recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

It would be hard to find another time in Guatemala’s history in which recognition of the identity and rights of Indigenous Peoples has advanced as much as it has under the Accords. By establishing the multiethnic, pluricultural and multilingual character of the nation and recognizing that it is made up of four peoples — three of them Indigenous — the Accords helped to lay the groundwork for remodelling the government apparatus and even the culture of the country.

Nonetheless, there has been a lack of compliance with the specific commitments to implement Indigenous rights and for the most part the country’s civic culture is still impregnated with racism and discrimination (5). However, change has been unleashed and that trend — given the current historic environment — is ongoing.

  • c) Observance of human rights.

The centrality of this point arises from decades of grave human rights violations. Individual and political rights tend to be observed, although some worrisome situations persist (6), and violations of second and third generation rights have yet to be tended to. One major issue is that reparation for victims of the conflict is still in the early stages, although the establishment of the National Reparations Commission in 2004 was an advance in this direction. Also, deep deterioration in the security of the individual due to the rise of various aspects of organized crime is affecting the ability of democratic government.

  • d) Democracy.

Political democracy is fully in force. Transparent and legitimate elections have taken place and there is separation of powers and the rule of law. Since the democratic transition and the 1985 constitution pre-date the Accords, these advances are not solely due to the peace process, but peace has no doubt strengthened democracy. Of particular importance is the strengthening of local spaces for democratic action due to the work of the Urban and Rural Development Councils.

  • e) Economic reform.

The agreements have linked the possibility for consolidation of democracy and social reform, and they have taken on an economic dimension, especially through fiscal reform. While actions of the spoilers in opposing the tax increases have made this objective impossible to achieve at present, nonetheless the need for that change has been placed in the national agenda.

The Accords have also given rise to significant advances in terms of gender rights. On this issue it should be kept in mind that there is no specific accord on women’s rights because they were treated as a transversal issue referred to in various accords and commitments. Of particular relevance was the creation of the National Women’s Forum

Compliance with commitments on gender rights :

Legislation or InstitutionMeaning
Approval of the Law to Dignify and Comprehensively Promote Women.Broadly promotes development opportunities for women and endorses their participation at all levels of economic, social and political life.
Land Fund Law.Provides for the right to co-ownership of land among couples.
Urban and Rural Development Councils Law.Provides for participation of women in the councils.
Penal Code reforms.Penalizes all forms of discrimination.
Creation of the Office for the Defence of Indigenous Women.Deals with the specific situation of vulnerability and discrimination against Indigenous women.
Creation of the Secretariat for Women.Formulated the national policy for the development of women and a plan for equal opportunities 2001-2006.
Creation of the National Women’s Forum.Provides for the organization of women to participate in the peace process.

Despite these accomplishments, there is a need to reflect from a feminist perspective on whether or not the peace process has introduced significant change on gender issues. Peace negotiations were carried out mainly by men while women’s groups concerned with gender issues had only partial influence on the process. Given these conditions, we can venture the hypothesis that the interests, positions, experiences and visions of society from a gender perspective were not central to the negotiation and its commitments, even though, as we have seen, women’s needs and issues were taken into account.

In conclusion, the comparative analysis of the minimalist and maximalist perspectives of the peace process tend to confirm Baranyi’s point of view that it is “fair to assess postwar peacebuilding efforts in the first 10 years primarily according to whether they have helped end wars. Yet it is important to assess long-term peacebuilding efforts, over periods of 10-25 years, according to whether they are addressing the causes of conflict and are leading to sustainable peacebuilding” (7).

On a more general note, what are the main lessons from the Guatemalan experience? Among others we can note the following:

  • a) The initial impulse is key.

The peace agreement created huge sympathy and expectations both at home and abroad that translated into political support, international cooperation and positive public opinion, all of which left little room for manoeuvres by spoilers.

However, this capital was short-lived. Initial operational success maintained the momentum, but sluggish performance on substantive issues rapidly consumed the early enthusiasm. The country returned to its regular political dynamics and peace lost its place at the top of everyday concerns. Spoilers recovered their capacity to inflict damage as evidenced by the defeat of the constitutional referendum and the momentous effects this had on the legitimacy of the process.

The international community continued to assist the peace process beyond what could have been expected and despite the emergence of other crises, wars and grave human rights violations around the world. However, even this extended support had to come to an end, as external actors and willpower cannot take the place of national resolve. The end of MINUGUA’s mandate in 2004 — after several extensions — is the clearest expression of how external support has peaked. Thus, in the future international presence will probably flow mostly through normal development cooperation programs.

In retrospect, it seems obvious that better use could have been made of the first and perhaps the second years of the peace process. The lack of political decisiveness on the part of the state and political parties may explain the limited use of this window of opportunity. By 1997 electoral dynamics became superimposed on the peace agenda.

The new government’s initial commitment to peace in 2000, the Fiscal Pact and an ongoing process to reschedule tasks all seemed to indicate a degree of recovery of the early positive spirit. However, the hopes were short-lived mainly because an intense political struggle between the government and business sectors, as well as other social actors, carried over into the entire presidential term and made it impossible to establish national spaces of understanding.

In sum, the lesson is that the initial momentum created by the political conclusion of an armed conflict should be taken full advantage of because the consequent spirit is hard to keep alive.

  • b) The importance of full involvement of the state and political parties.

The Accords were an agreement signed between the Executive Branch of government and the guerrilla commanders. Each successive president of Guatemala has in turn made public statements defining the Accords as state obligations. It is not known why the Accords were not presented to Congress in order to make them into law. As mentioned above, what did take place as a means of complying with some of the commitments was the constitutional referendum, which was defeated by the voters.

All of this led to legal difficulties and provided ammunition to spoilers.

Even though the courts supported some measures and Congress passed several specific laws referring to peace commitments, an earlier legalization of the Accords would have provided lasting force. Furthermore, because the Executive Branch took on the responsibility for negotiating peace and complying with the Accords, other branches of government were less involved in observance. This led to difficulties such as getting Congress to approve the so-called Peace Agenda.

Lack of involvement by other branches of government was corrected in 2005 with the new Framework Law for the Peace Accords (MAP), a measure that was necessary from the start.

The absence of political parties in the process was surely an even greater weakness. Although parties expressed support for the negotiation when the peace was signed, the Accompaniment Commission, for example, limited participation to the government and the URNG. During the 2003 election campaign participating parties agreed to a National Shared Agenda that ratified their commitment to the Accords (8). Furthermore, the new format for the National Peace Accords Commission set up in 2004, and the National Peace Council that will take its place once the MAP goes into effect, includes parties with majority representation in Congress. Sustainability of the peace commitments requires strong and steady involvement of political parties.

  • c. The importance of broader public ownership.

In practice, the Accords granted new rights to the population as a whole. However, the long and complex texts were not sufficiently disseminated and even though most of the people knew about peace and approved it, they were unfamiliar with the content of the Accords. Despite campaigns waged by civil society organizations, MINUGUA and to some extent the government, most of the population was unable to develop a sense of ownership. Moreover, the already complicated texts have undergone successive rescheduling, adding to their complexity. To this we might add that efforts to translate the Accords into the language of popular education and into Indigenous languages were clearly insufficient.

It is no doubt true that various spaces were set up to foster ownership of the Accords, the main ones being the Parity Commissions between the state and representatives of Indigenous Peoples, the Women’s Forum, the departmental discussion tables and the work of the Accompaniment Commission, among others. Nonetheless, their efforts seem to have reached only specific population groups and not the broader population.

  • d. The importance of adequate financing.

In a nutshell, there is no peace without financial resources. Many commitments were not carried out because the government did not have the means to do so, regardless of issues of political will. Although international support appeared to be sufficient, actual disbursements did not always meet what had been pledged or were lost because the government failed to provide the required matching funds. Corruption and the failure to achieve fiscal reform should be added to these factors. The modest goal of achieving tax income equivalent to 12 per cent of GDP was never reached.

All of this meant that successive governments did not have the resources to comply with the peace portfolio and were unable to provide the matching funds required by cooperating international bodies, meaning that part of what could have been available went unused.

The seemingly obvious lesson is that actors interested in furthering peace should attend to the necessary financial provisions in addition to the political dimension. As well, a certain level of national unity is required in order to make the necessary fiscal reforms possible.

  • e. The importance of being realistic.

This lesson refers to a discussion thread that runs through this paper. While the Accords conjured the possibility of a noble envisioned outcome inspired by the desire to overcome a history plagued by cruelty, it appears that certain factors were not realistically taken into account. This is the crux of the problem of compliance with the Accords. The assumption was that when peace was signed all social actors had agreed to a “social pact” that would be above and beyond partisan debate and sectoral conflict. While this was a desirable condition, it was not a real possibility because post-conflict societies emerge from war deeply divided. What can be realistically expected in the medium term is exactly the national unity that was absent in the first place.

The lesson here is that agreements should be framed by reality, in accordance with the historic context, the international situation and the country’s geopolitical location.

Five axes for the peace

The present situation in Guatemala points to a phase in which leadership of the process would pass from the large international and national actors to state representatives at the regional and local level and to civil society leadership at those points. Thus, the peace process would move from a debate rooted in national policy to realization through regional, provincial, municipal and community dynamics.

With the closure of MINUGUA, the Accords become a national responsibility and a crucial strategic component for ongoing compliance with their terms. This makes buy-in and participation at the local level all the more important. It also determines the role that institutions like the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office are now called to play (9).

Guatemala has a well-developed route map to building a culture of peace and furthering socio-economic development and the multicultural character of the nation. However, after 15 years of international support and influence — both during the negotiation and through the first years of implementation — the decision to take advantage of this opportunity rests solely on national political determination. This proposition confirms Baranyi’s statement that: “multi-dimensional peacebuilding provides a framework for nurturing transnational coalitions — or peace infrastructures — linking agents of change from the local to the national and international levels. Yet stakeholders should invest much more to build the domestic base of these coalitions and deliver the institutional reforms required to extend their life beyond the departure of major international actors” (10).

In summary, five strategic axes appear to be crucial to the sustainability of the peace goals. State norms appear to be one crucial component. This includes legalizing peace institutions and commitments as extensively as possible, including both the long list of bills pending in Congress and possible new options, such as making the National Women’s Forum a permanent institution. In this vein, the previously mentioned Framework Law for the Peace Accords is noteworthy.

The current strategy that attempts to root the Accords in the dynamics of the development councils, the second component, is a positive concept in that it would guarantee continuity. As we have seen above, this process is still not sufficiently in place to allow for an evaluation. But the idea is a good one and with adequate attention and support — and allowing the time for the necessary changes in the prevailing political culture — the councils could strengthen participatory democracy and the observance of peace.

As mentioned above, a third component is the greater involvement of political parties in the process of monitoring and providing support for compliance with the Accords.

A fourth axis is the Indigenous People’s efforts to achieve a truly intercultural country. Their labours are based on the Accords precisely because in their understanding peace is a process rather than an endpoint, as in “a guide to begin building a democratic country without exclusion or discrimination” (11).

In this view, the insistence on peace is a part of the envisioned multicultural, multilingual and multiethnic nation that Indigenous Peoples aspire to, as well as part of the more equitable envisioned society in terms of gender.

A fifth axis is linked to the financial sustainability of the commitments of the Accords. The unfinished fiscal reform should be retrieved. It is a difficulty undertaking because the entrepreneurial sector, which is the dominant force in the politics of the country, still refuses to recognize the right of the government to raise tax revenue. However, without enough economic resources, it will be impossible to put into practice most of the reforms of the Accords.

At the end of the day the main question is: who are the subjects who can promote the transformative peacebuilding? We believe that it is possible to create a bond between those sectors of the political and intellectual elites who are supporters of the peace, the leadership of the women’s and Indian Peoples sectors and the leaderships of the various sectors of civil society engaged in the development councils with the objective of expediting the fulfillment of the commitments. As difficult as it is, the country has no other alternative but the peace guidelines for the development and the consolidation of democracy.


  • (1) : Pasara, op. cit.

  • (2) : MINUGUA, 2004.

  • (3) : The National Peace Commission was created as a part of the new structure of the peace at the beginning of 2004 and substituted the former Comision de Acompañamiento de los Acuerdos de Paz.

  • (4) : Gobierno de Guatemala, 2004.

  • (5) : MINUGUA, 2004, op. cit.

  • (6) : One example is the violent eviction of peasants from the Nueva Linda farm in the department of Retalhuleu in August 2004 that resulted in the death of several peasants and police. See the Human Rights Ombudsman’s report on this case: Procuraduría de los Derechos humanos. Resolución sobre el desalojo en la finca “Nueva Linda”, Champerico, Retalhuleu. Expediente EIO.REU. 23-2004 /D.I. October 12, 2004.

  • (7) : Baranyi, 2006.

  • (8) : Agenda Nacional Compartida, 2003.

  • (9) : In one significant move, the Human Rights Ombudsman organized a Consultative Council for the Peace Accords in August 2005, one prominent member of which is Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño.

  • (10) : Baranyi, op. cit.

  • (11) : Cali, 2004.