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Column by Carolina Valdivia: Latin America, a zone of peace?

Ten years ago, through the Havana Declaration, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) proclaimed our region as a “Zone of Peace.” Thus, the commitment of the Treaty of Tlatelolco of the late 1960s was deepened, emphasizing the need for universal disarmament, the prohibition of the threat and use of force and the obligation to negotiate differences in accordance with the Charter of Nations. Although these responsibilities have been notably respected in the region in terms of interstate conflicts, when looking within our borders, the so-called “zone of peace” is nothing more than an illusion, a mirage.

According to United Nations figures, in 2021, eight of the 10 countries with the highest homicide rates in the world were in Latin America and the Caribbean. The United Nations also warned that there was an increasing connection between groups that, taking advantage of the structural weaknesses of our states, compete for control of illegal markets.

By the way, the emergence of organizations that seek to challenge the power of states is not new, and is due to complex multidimensional causes, an interaction between political and social components that cry out for justice – in a broad sense – and conditions such as abandonment territorial of the State, the absence of the rule of law and organic inequalities. They are also evolutionary dynamics that adjust – and justify – their actions to their own subsistence needs. The cases of the FARC in Colombia or the Shining Path in Peru, although in different historical contexts, are illustrative. They emerged as revolutionary political movements that ended up combining, sooner or later, the fight to remove the prevailing social order with the control of drug trafficking, kidnappings and other abject crimes.

We would be naive to think that these dynamics are absent from our country, inserted in a region that has little of peace. Today there are plausible signs of links between groups that, wrapped in the cloak of neglected social demands, have hidden various illicit activities within their claims.

Comparative experience shows that there is no silver bullet to address these phenomena. Not even recourse to the Armed Forces has been entirely effective. However, what regional practice does reflect is that the lack of global understanding of these conflicts, the lack of political decision to establish strategies and the inconsistencies between the powers of the State when addressing these phenomena, have been determining factors in the temporal and spatial extension of violence. Worse still, the absence of definitions in our region has caused irreparable human (and economic) losses and, most especially, has tended to weaken democracy.

By Carolina Valdiviaformer Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs and co-agent before the ICJ

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