Anniversary of the Esquipulas Accords
By CIP, OAS, Inter-American Dialogue
This commentary was written by the Organization of American States
The Organization of American States (OAS) today hosted the 49th Lecture of the Americas on the theme “25 Years After the Esquipulas Agreements: Opportunities and Challenges in Central America,” a debate that involved the former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Oscar Arias and former President of Guatemala Vinicio Cerezo, along with a high level panel that included leaders and analysts from the region.
The Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, opened the event by recalling that the Esquipulas Agreements launched “a regional peace process with the Central Americans as the only actors and the only ones directly responsible for its success or failure.” The agreements, he added, are notable because they represent an “endogenous solution” to the armed conflicts in the region, which showed “the value of the will and the commitment of the Central American people to work together in a unified way in their peace process.”
Among the many legacies of Esquipulas, Secretary Insulza said, is “the creation of political systems that, with all their shortcomings, are better than the authoritarian calamities that preceded them and, in particular, are better at peacefully processing social demands.” In addition, the Secretary said, “I think the same courage and rationality that they showed 25 years ago give us inspiration to meet the challenges and threats that face freedom, democracy and governance in the region today.”
The forum also included the participation of a high-level panel made up of former Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein, former Chair of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs Michael Barnes, former Ambassador of Nicaragua and political analyst Arturo Cruz, and the Director of the Latin American Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center Cynthia Arnson. The discussion was moderated by Michael Shifter, President of the Inter-American Dialogue.
Former Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo highlighted the challenges that faced the protagonists of the Esquipulas Agreements, recalling that “the situation was very complicated and difficult, because all the countries in the region except Costa Rica were involved in internal wars with their military governments and subject to enormous processes of repression that sought to suppress the military opposition of the guerrillas or the political opposition through the use of unlimited violence.”
Despite the obstacles, continued the former Guatemalan president, the Esquipulas I and II Agreements were successful because “the presidents signed them thinking of their people, their nations and the future of their countries, transcending personal or partisan interests”; because they set forth “a procedure to consolidate the agreements through the institutionalization of the processes”; and because “they prompted a movement which continued and that, properly interpreted by the political and military leaders of the time, led to the signing of peace agreements in subsequent years, with the demobilization and the signing of peace agreements in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.”
Former President of Costa Rica Oscar Arias, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to achieve peace in the region, said that Esquipulas II Agreement, signed by five Central American presidents on August 7, 1987, “was founded on the conviction that no peace effort can be sustained that is not accompanied by a guarantee of respect for human rights and the rule of law, by the certainty that citizens may express their agreement or disagreement with government policies through periodic and pluralistic elections, and by the existence of strong and independent democratic institutions that ensure social stability; in short, by the distinctive features of all democracies.”
The legacy of Esquipulas, Arias said, is “fertile” but also “inconclusive.” “In Central America we have peace, democracy and development,” he said, “but what we lack is quality in all these variables.” The future of the agreements is “dynamic,” he added, and is being built by those who “try to forge a better future for their people,” by those who “have opted for diplomacy and understanding between nations as a tool of progress,” by “memory, which must serve as a warning” and with “hope, which must serve to encourage us.”
Before the lecture, Secretary General Insulza welcomed the participants in his office at OAS headquarters in Washington DC.