COMMENT: Peace is practical
Early last November I had the privilege of attending a public forum in Ottawa organized by the Canadian Peace Initiative. The forum took place on a Friday evening featuring Professor Ian McKay of Queens University as a keynote speaker. Professor McKay, author of Warrior Nation: Rebuilding Canada in an Age of Anxiety, talked about militarism and the re-writing of Canadian history as his topic.
To those of us present, he clearly outlined how Canada has changed since the Harper Conservatives took power in 2006. He talked about how Canada had become a “warrior nation” shifting from its role of mediator and peacemaker. The whole idea that somehow we are at war is a strange concept to most Canadians, but yet, it seems to be more and more the underlying message of the current federal government.
The next keynote speaker was to have been Don Luis Alberto Cordero of the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in Costa Rica. This Central American country along with Nepal and the Solomon Islands has a Department of Peace. In his statement which was read out at our meeting, Mr. Cordero stated that in the 1980’s his region was at war. The United States and the Soviet Union were providing vast amounts of weapons and tanks to a region in which one country was governed by a dictator and one by communists, innocent civilians were being killed, and thousands of children were orphaned. The possibility that five presidents with radically different political views leading nations with radically different interests could ever agree to a peace accord was unthinkable. And yet, that is just what happened on August 7, 1987 when Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez brokered the Esquipulas II Peace Accords.
By emphasizing countries’ differences of opinions and differences of interests, everyone had neglected to consider that every nation in Central America and every nation in the world does have a common interest in peace.
Yet today, according to Cordero, Central America is rearming at a disturbing rate. With annual military expenditure now reaching over $7 billion and drug trafficking leading to alarmingly high rates of organized crime in the most violent region in the world, Central American governments may no longer be fighting wars with each other, but they are actively engaged in conflicts that disturb the peace at home.
He goes on to say that the disavowal of military violence does not, in and of itself, make a country any more peaceful unless it exists within a “culture of peace.” Costa Rica’s establishment of the Ministry of Justice and Peace in 2009 was just the latest step in a long series of initiatives to bring peace to a country in a region long afflicted with conflict and war. The process began in 1877 when President Tomas Guardia abolished the death penalty, making Costa Rica one of the first countries to do so. Then, in 1948, Costa Rica became the first country to eliminate its military and enshrined this ban in its constitution so that future generations would not be tempted to resort to violence to resolve conflicts.
But this was only the beginning of Costa Rica’s mission to create a culture of peace. Indeed, this country took the leadership role in promoting regional peace in Central America, as well, when President Arias brokered the Esquipulas II Peace Accords for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Recognizing the benefits of a citizenry actively engaged in promoting peace, the Costs Rican legislature passed a law mandating peace education and advocating mediation in the legal system in 1997 and creating a National Directorate of Alternative Conflict Resolution in 2004. And today, the Arias Foundation is dedicated to working with these government bodies to ensure that Costs Rica and Central America remain peaceful and tolerant societies.
It was quite an honour for me to be present at this event as I was invited to replace Don Luis Alberto Cordero and to talk about my Private Members Bill C-373, An Act to Establish a Department of Peace.
In researching for my presentation, and after listening to what Mr. Cordero and Professor McKay had to say, I am more convinced than ever that a Department of Peace could do a great deal to shift our country more to a “culture of peace” and away from the path of a “warrior nation”.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior.