Latin America is now a region with no open conflict. Still more people died from homicides in Brazil in 2015 than there were casualties in the Syrian war that year. It is a region with remarkable economic development and innovation but also one that is torn up in parts by drug trafficking, organised crime and violence – and still far from enjoying sustainable peace.
There are many actors from civil society, academia and governments working hard in the region to tackle these trends though, and some of them recently had the opportunity to reflect and share their experiences in a unique meet up in Bogotá, Colombia. Sharing not only a background in peace and conflict work, they were drawn together by the Foundation because of a common experience from Uppsala, Sweden.
Alumni network for peacebuilders
For 30 years, the Department for Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University has been running international trainings in the field of peace and security, in recent years with a focus on dialogue and mediation. Peace researchers, policy-makers and practitioners have come to Uppsala from all parts of the world to take part in the trainings, which since last year are co-organised with the Foundation. The event in Bogotá was the inaugural meeting of an alumni network, kicking off what is intended to become a series of regional alumni seminars for former training participants organised by the University and the Foundation.
This first seminar, titled Strengthening inclusion and Sustaining Peace in Latin America, brought together thirty-eight alumni from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. It gave participants the opportunity to reflect on and share how they have applied their knowledge from the training programme.
“The courses in Uppsala helped me a lot in my professional endeavours, especially as an academic,” explained Pedro Valenzuela, Professor with the Pontifica Universidad Javerianna in Bogotá and an alumnus of two different trainings in Uppsala. “It provided me with a lot of input for my own teaching but also with tools and instruments for the more practical work I have been doing working with guerilla organisations particularly in Colombia over the years.”
Local solutions, regional approaches
The seminar was also a platform to learn about new developments in peace research and relevant policy processes and to connect with other experts working in the region. The implementation of the Colombian peace agreement and regional challenges in sustaining peace were also topics covered during the three days.
“There is a peace agreement in Colombia, which is unique. It is being carried out and implemented in a new way, so that increases the possibilities for peace in a country that has been war-torn for 50 years,” said Professor Peter Wallensteen from Uppsala University. “But there are also a lot of challenges in the region, challenges that have to do with criminal violence, with corruption, with violence again women….It is really important that we come together and discuss these, that we try to find local solutions, regional approaches and a road for international commitment.”
This was echoed by the participants who noted the struggle the region faces in preventing violent conflict and addressing polarisation in deeply divided societies. These divisions were one of fifteen topics explored during an interactive day of dialogue using Open Space, where participants themselves identified, prioritised and lead discussions on various topics related to the event theme.
“The open space methodology gave us a great opportunity to listen to each other and to exchange experiences, to get fresh and new ideas,” said Ivan Ormachea Choque. Ivan participated in the Advanced International Programme on Conflict Resolution training in 1992 and works as a mediator and facilitator for the Word Bank Group and Inter-American Development Bank. “Dialogue is necessary. We need to learn from each other and this Uppsala alumni network is a good opportunity.”
Limitless potential for exchange and learning
There were also fruitful discussions on ways forward to develop and sustain the alumni network, which is intended to re-connect as many as possible of the 750 former training participants. Similar alumni seminars in other regions are being planned by the University and the Foundation in the near future.
The ambition and opportunities for this network are much bigger than these regional seminars though. By connecting peacebuilders locally, regionally and globally the network will be a platform for further exchange and learning among the members themselves, as well as for continued contact with the organising institutions in Uppsala, helping advocates for peace around the world to find inspiration, partnerships and innovative approaches to sustaining peace.