Frameworks for Assessing Resilience in Guatemala

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Interpeace is an international organization whose mission is to assist polarized or violent conflict-afflicted societies to strengthen their social and institutional capacities necessary for preventing violence and building peace. At Interpeace, we understand that peacebuilding is only possible with the commitment of different groups and actors that make up a society to renounce the use of violence as a means of solving their problems and conflicts which are inherent to social and political life. This entails overcoming distrust and separation that underlie the dynamics of polarization and violence by strengthening those elements of social cohesion and legitimacy of politics institutions that allow for effective prevention, management and transformation of violent conflict in society. Instead of working with different actors and groups separately, Interpeace seeks – through dialogue and strengthening the bonds of trust - to bridge the gap that separates them and promote the development of operational strategies that will allow them to address the challenges they face in a collaborative fashion.

Over more than ten years of work in the region, Interpeace’s Regional Office for Latin America based in Guatemala has developed a variety of experiences in processes of consolidation of peace by facilitating the convergence of different sectors around initiatives undertaken by social actors and the State that would thereafter be implemented within their own frameworks of social and political action. The experience accumulated by Interpeace over more than twenty years of working in conflictive zones in five continents underlines the need to better understand the specific challenges of peacebuilding in each context and improve operational strategies by adapting them to each specific case. This requires that attention not only be focused on the negative aspects of conflicts that lead to violence but also to identify existing capacities in society to overcome situations of conflict and violence so that strategies devised to transform conflicts do not only address causes and trigger-mechanisms of conflicts but also the strengthening of existing capacities of different social groups and institutions to face them collaboratively.

Nonetheless, the dominant perspective of international interventions in peacebuilding tends to concentrate only on reducing the negative influence of those conflicts in society. In this sense, and with the intention of contributing to international efforts on behalf of peacebuilding, Interpeace has joined in an effortthat, over the past years, has been supported by different international aid groups and venues at a global level to explore the contribution that the notion of resilience can make to these efforts.

While it is true that the notion of resilience and its various applications changes according to the nature of the discipline which uses it, for the purposes of peacebuilding the concept refers to the capacity that exists in a society – in any of its social or institutional surroundings - to cope with, overcome, and emerge strengthened from situations of violent conflict. While exploring not only the violent phenomenon but also the conditions that enable a society to confront it, a resilience perspective has the potential to contribute to the identification of existing capacities to confront the challenges imposed by violent conflict.

In this context, Interpeace has initiated the “Frameworks for Assesing Resilience” project as a process to explore the mechanisms by which people face conflictive situations that affect them. Under this project, Interpeace seeks to address the contribution of the resilience perspective to peacebuilding on the basis of those principles and values which are fundamental to the organization: wide-based participation of actors involved in the problem, listening to their voice, and their ownership appropriation of the processes as a basis for the legitimacy and sustainability necessary for the consolidation of peace.

In light of the tendency to define resilience from external perspectives and, in the majority of cases, under terms which are alien to the contexts and the people where work is undertaken, the general objective of the “Frameworks for Assesing Resilience” is to contribute to the global debate on this issue on the basis of the perspective of local actors and the identification of guidelines for action that emerge from participatory processes in various countries. It is within that framework that this process is being implemented simultaneously in three countries: East Timor, Liberia, and Guatemala, with the aim in mind of expanding the debate by comparing the experiences of three different cases.

The choice of the case of Guatemala was based on the contribution it could make to this debate on resilience and peacebuilding from the experience of a society which twenty years after the signing of peace accords is still characterized by a weak State and the persistence of conflictive and violent dynamics that have continued to adapt and change over the course of the years. This provides a different perspective from that of the other two countries, en which this same process is being undertaken in contexts which are closer in time to previous conflicts.

In the specific case of Guatemala, the objective of this process was to provide national actors with a conceptual and action framework that, on the basis of a participatory identification of the forms in which resilience is expressed in our society, allowed us to identify the existing capacities in society for the transformation of conflicts in nonviolent ways and, thereby, enhance them. sed by Interpeace for Guatemala seeks to identify and analyze different resilience factors derived from the ways in which societies and their institutions confront the effects of conflicts and their violent expressions. This objective will be achieved by a broadly-based participatory process based on the methodology of Participatory Action-Based Research (PAR) that Interpeace has adapted for its use.

Under this perspective, the participatory process that Interpeace promoted became an opening where the participants could seek a consensus. In this sense, dialogue was not an objective in itself but a mechanism that allowed the actors to converge around problems that had been identified collectively.

This methodology entailed working through different complementary phases: exploratory phase, consultation phase, implementation of PAR phase (national project group and thematic working groups), quantitative phase (a national survey), and an evaluation and follow-up phase of the process.

On the basis of the consultation carried out in eleven departments in the country, four areas were identified where society expressed a capacity for resilience: insecurity and violence, socio environmental conflicts, fragility of state institutions, and socioeconomic fragility. These results were presented to the National Group, made up of actors that represented a variety of social sectors: businesspeople, politicians, representatives of civil society organizations, and individual experts, who agreed by consensus on two thematic groupings which were analyzed in depth for resilience: resilience in the face of insecurity and violence and resilience to socio-environmental conflicts. The other two themes were understood to cut across the entire process.

It should be pointed out that one of the key aspects was the capacity of the process to adapt to the political context. In this respect, the work of the groups had to be redefined as a result of the national crisis that began in the country in April 2015, during which the National Group had to decide to include another topic related to the corruption of the political system and its institutional precariousness within the analysis of the capacities for resilience of Guatemalan society. The Group decided to include a new topic for discussion to analyze the social protest that arose from thecorruption in the political system as an expression of the transformative capacity of society and to propose, as a product of that discussion, resilient options that would allow for structural transformations in the long term. The Participatory Action Research (PAR) process actively involved a wide diversity of social actors and their commitment to identify capacities and to search for joint mechanisms to improve them. A convergence of committed actors in the process was sought in order to achieve, without disregard for their differences, points of agreement that would lead to a search for solutions.

The political and participatory process allowed the national actors to put forward consensus-based proposals aimed at strengthening the capacities for resilience of Guatemalan society and increasing its capacity to act in the face of the problem it faces. In this sense, the “Frameworks for Assesing Resilience” project represents the beginning of a long-range process that is not concluded with the results that have been achieved. The outcomes that emerged from the process are the basis for a strengthening of the convergence of the actors in order to implement joint actions.

In addition to the concrete proposals achieved by the working groups, mention should be made of the value and pertinence of the concept of resilience and its relation to some of the topics and key debates in the field of peacebuilding. Its importance and pertinence is also evident in the face of current discussions about policy in this field, especially with regards to peacebuilding and state building.

The field of peacebuilding can contribute to knowledge about resilience by thinking and acting as a means to better understand, involve, and assess the diverse levels and actors of a society, their leadership to promote change, and the complex relationships among them. This perspective can contribute to an increased recognition of the need to acquire concepts and tools that will facilitate a better understanding of how local actors and systems function and grow and how to better help them as a means to achieve self-sustaining peace.