Our students just turned in my absolute favorite assignment of the semester. It must be the Social Worker in me because I always anticipate this full-week of reading and grading. In our Conflict Transformation course, we ask our students to interview someone who was involved in the revolution of 1979 and ensuing contra, the disarmament and peace process that followed. Many of our students participated themselves, as service was required for young men. Our students are always a bit apprehensive about the assignment, wondering if some of the questions will trigger painful events, but in the end, the majority of them share that it is a helpful assignment that encourages them to learn more about their own selves and culture, and the continued impact of war in their lives and their country.
What does national reconciliation mean? What have been the successes and challenges in Nicaragua from the perspective of those who were involved? How did the armed conflict impact individuals and what did does this impact look like today? How can we improve our understanding of the peace building process here in Nicaragua?
Instead of highlighting or summarizing the papers of our students, we asked them for permission to share their writing with you. And so this week and next, we will share with you their perspectives on armed conflict and the reconciliation process in Nicaragua. Here are their voices.
Peace is Possible, but it is a Choice by Jessica Azucena Valdivia Montenegro
This oral history interview was very interesting for me because I had never before talked about the theme of reconciliation in Nicaragua with someone who participated in the war and the process that followed. To be face to face with someone and imagine all of the pain, fear and anxiety that one lived through and then later adjust to a life without war was very meaningful for me.
I interviewed Don Mario Rocha Gutierrez, a gentleman with a relaxed appearance, who is 57 years old and lives in the Belen Neighborhood in the city of Estelí. He participated in the armed conflict on the side of the National Sandinista Liberation Front (FSLN) and was responsible for training soldiers for combat (physical training, assemble and disarmament of weapons).
To understand the relationship between the interview and conflict transformation, we need to start from the lived experience of the person. The feelings of guilt and rage that marked his life and his felt helplessness in overcoming these and the point in his life where he realized these memories may last a lifetime. Don Mario described the war and conflict as a place that causes many emotions for him, including anger, as well as vulnerability, fear, intimacy and hope.
Don Mario recounts that when he began his service, a superior warned him that he would need to turn in his weapons if the negotiations with the Contra began to bring successful results. For Don Mario, this was excellent news as he “did not want to know anything more about war.” The first step in the process of conflict transformation is the desire to change violent actions into peaceful behavior. One of the Beatitudes of Reconciliation states, “Blessed are those who are willing to enter the process of healing, because they will become leaders.” Don Mario was willing to enter into this process and when the demobilization process was initiated, he became an advocate in his community for the turning in of weapons, placing an emphasis on the importance of leaving behind the ways of the past and working towards new times of peace, and the importance of building peace together.
Transforming our destructive conflicts into constructive experiences is an important task in the reconciliation process. Don Mario shares, that setting aside negative aspects that had occurred in the conflict and reaffirming certain values such as loyalty, discipline, brotherhood, love and family are integral in this process. Conflict transformation is therefore a process of engagement of relationships, interests, debates, expressing one’s lived experiences and learning how to be more loving.
When I asked Don Mario what the word reconciliation means to him, he said that it involves forgiveness and reconstruction. If we want to better understand the processing of the conflict, we need to understand ones thoughts, emotions, self-esteem and personal perceptions that were impacted by the conflict. Don Mario shares that there was a time when he did not want to talk about what he experienced during the armed conflict, until later when he realized that this was not healthy in his processing of the event and his healing.
While the armed conflict was very destructive in the life of Don Mario and many others, he shares that the spirit of the conflict on the side of the FSLN was to achieve social change for the wider population and bring about common good. This encouraged him in his work towards reconciliation because he believes that while the armed conflict was devastating, what followed provided a collective opportunity for growth and change. He affirms that healthy conflict creates life and thanks to conflict we are able to respond, innovate and change. Conflict can be understood as an engine for social change, which is alive, sincere and sensitive to a community’s needs and aspirations.
Don Mario is also grateful for the contribution of the church in the process of reconciliation, which served as a mediator in many of the negotiations, accompanied the signing of the peace treaty and helped survivors of the conflict.
Don Mario is as a product of the reconciliation process. He is no longer afraid of war. He is grateful for improved economic stability, foreign investment, employment opportunities and continued hope for a better future. Don Mario does not consider a future culture of peace as a possibility for Nicaragua; he says that it is already happening.