Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Proceeding despite our doubts


In this series of posts on the one year anniversary of the gang truce,  the figure of Father Antonio Rodriguez, "Padre Toño", has figured prominently.   Independent Catholic News quotes his concerns about the ongoing truce process:

"The truce has not touched the human dimension of the person - in one year there has not been a single programme that has taken a comprehensive approach to the individuals affected by this phenomenon of gangs," said Father Antonio Rodriguez, parish priest of St Francis of Assisi Church in Mejicanos, a gang-affected area on the outskirts of San Salvador.
"The truce is a political strategy," Father Antonio told ContraPunto magazine,"but what interests me is the human dimension - and the truce has not touched on this." 
"For me there are three points. The first is to take a human approach to the process, through a psycho-spiritual and psycho-social programme. A young person takes about a year to recover all the humanity affected by violence - as a perpetrator as well as a victim. Then there is a whole process of learning and training, and after about a year and a half a young man could be ready to be reintegrated into society as a new person." 
"Secondly, it is important to recover the social capital or the territory that have been damaged or compromised, through processes of restorative dialogue or pacts of citizenship. This has to involve family, young people and even police or government actors who have used violence in their operations.” 
"The important third level is to guarantee of human rights. I believe more rights means less violence. We must respect due process even when we arrest, prosecute and punish criminals. What we cannot do is detain offenders whilst violating their rights."
Angela Smith, writing for the Peace and Conflict Monitor, builds on these thoughts and asks how El Salvador should proceed in the face of such uncertainty:

The narrative of the evolution of this truce is complex and Padre Toño is not alone with his doubts and criticism of the truce which many have claimed awards legitimacy to “criminals”. Mediation and negotiation between incarcerated gang leaders and facilitators have lacked transparency; questions of motives and ethics have been raised. Critics denounce as unethical likely incentives for collaboration, such as a government move last year to transfer imprisoned gang leaders from high security prisons to less restrictive facilities. 
The criticisms warrant exploration but what has occurred since the truce’s inception, despite its unorthodoxy, seems to be working if one measure of success is reduction in homicides. Taking a hard look at development of initiatives being led by Fabio Colindres, Catholic Chaplain to the Armed Forces of El Salvador (FAES) and former Ministry of Defense advisor, Raúl Mijango, and supported by the Organization of American States, reveals there may be hope for a sustainable peace if peace is, as we have been taught, a process rather than an end in itself. 
Peace and conflict expert and author of Decolonizing Peace, Victoria Fontan is among the truce’s critics, “A reduction of homicides is only a truncated vision of peace, one that will come to haunt the FMLN in the future.” Calling the truce “unidimensional”, she argues it only addresses peace in terms of security. The murder of Morales and questions surrounding it, in her opinion, foreshadow more violence and signify corruption. 
Clearly, a reduction in homicides is only one measure of success and there is no clear evidence that the truce has had a significant effect on reducing other forms of violent crime such as kidnapping and extortion. But does this negate the value of progress or underscore the concept of peace as a process?... 
What would happen if detractors increasingly, even cautiously, joined the creative, unorthodox path that has emerged? What if the Salvadoran government was to take the chance Morales did and that Padre Toño joins others in taking to advance peace openly and with full disclosure of the uncertainties, doubt, and risk inherent in such an approach to conflict transformation?

Read the rest of Smith's article here.

Questions are pretty much all I have to offer as well.    This issue is multi-dimensional, and there are no absolutes.   It is just as wrong to say that all gang members are incorrigibly violent as it is to say that all gang members would give up criminal activity and violence if offered a dignified job.   It is just as wrong to say that conditions will never improve as it is to say that peace and security will suddenly flourish in the so-called "violence free cities."  But hundreds and hundreds of murders did not take place in the 12 months since the truce began.   If that's just the first step in a long process, one should look for the courage to take the next step.

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