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4. Central America: a firm and lasting peace?




Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala are the countries in the region where
conflicts have been most severe and long-drawn-out. Central America has
experienced major changes in the 1990s, including the ending of war in El
Salvador and Nicaragua and UN-sponsored peace negotiations in Guatemala. Most
interstate disputes have been resolved.

The factors which have made this degree of normalization possible are: the
collapse of the USSR and related shifts in US foreign policy with the end of
the cold war; creative peacemaking by Latin American medium-sized powers such
as Costa Rica and Mexico; an integrated approach to peace promotion on the part
of the UN, to a lesser extent the Organization of American States (OAS) and
non-governmental organizations (NGOs); the exhaustion of the belligerents; and
the emergence or re-emergence of skilled and credible national conciliators.

The UN has achieved significant success in supporting the peace processes
initiated by local powers in the Contadora Group. Its observer missions oversaw
demobilization of the warring parties in Nicaragua in 1992 and monitored
elections which were declared to be free and fair; verified the implementation
of a cease-fire in El Salvador, supervised demobilization of the combatants and
investigated human rights violations and the judicial system; and in late 1994
prepared to monitor the agreements reached in Guatemala on human rights.
Nevertheless only the parties involved at the national level can eventually
ensure a firm and lasting peace in each of the countries.

Enduring institutional weaknesses, human rights violations, and social and
economic inequities continue, however; they are impeding conflict resolution in
Nicaragua and El Salvador, and the obstacles to peace in Guatemala seem even
more daunting. The conditions that initially gave rise to armed conflict in all
these countries--the enduring power of the traditional élites, the need
for land reform and judicial reform, the failure to bring those responsible for
human rights violations to justice, and the glaring gap between macroeconomic
growth and the incomes of the majority--persist. They are made worse by the
harshness of the policy reforms required by the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) and the World Bank as a condition for reconstruction loans.