The Esquipulas process in Central America in the 1980s and 1990s shows how regional diplomacy can respond to regional security complexes. Jordi Urgell Garcia describes how regional initiatives had previously foundered in the context of Cold War proxy conflicts and externally sponsored dictatorships. The spread of democratisation and the de-escalation of the Cold War enabled Esquipulas to get a solid footing, but it took many years and came at a distinct historical juncture, and momentum has subsequently waned.
Despite their diplomatic innovation, the peace agreements in Central America lacked the wide-reaching social support needed to become an effective agenda for economic and political transformation. The role of civil society during the negotiation process was marginal and there was a lack of popular ownership of the peace agreements.
Jordi Urgell Garcia
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Conflict in Central America
The civil wars in Guatemala (1969-96), El Salvador (1979-92) and Nicaragua (1961-79 and again in the 1980s) became known collectively as the Central American Crisis. Each conflict had its own specific characteristics but the causes, dynamics and solutions of the different conflicts in the isthmus also had a connected, regional dimension.
Cross-border peacebuilding in Central America: Contadora and Esquipulas
In the absence of viable or relevant regional institutions in Central America, the Contadora process emerged in the early 1980s to create a less formal regional diplomatic framework for dialogue, confidence-building and inter-governmental cooperation. Contadora culminated in the Esquipulas II agreement (1987), which paved the way for elections in Nicaragua (1990), and peace accords in El Salvador (1992) and Guatemala (1996), and also established a network of regional institutions designed to enhance the pacification, democratisation and integration of the region.
Lessons from Esquipulas
Esquipulas was an ambitious attempt to overcome deep-rooted structural and historical socio-economic inequalities in Central America. It consolidated an autonomous regional space for dialogue that was sufficiently safeguarded from overbearing Cold War geopolitical imperatives and represented an innovative and ad-hoc Latin American regional initiative to resolve regional problems – when more formal regional structures were either compromised or inappropriate. Summits of the five Central American presidents that were developed through Contadora and Esquipulas became the primary regional diplomatic forum.