Participants Blog hosted by Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS

Month: July 2017 (Page 1 of 7)

Violence in Monterey and Beyond

Today was perhaps the most intense day of the program, but also one of the most interesting and engaging. I really enjoyed Professor Laurance’s session this morning, because of the way he related his own life, theoretical work and work as a practitioner into one session. I would have loved to hear more about the DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration) process, but certainly the insights and experiences he provided definitely indicated that this was an effective method of reducing violence. I found the moral and ethical questions raised by inviting groups who were previously rebels or violent into participating in the formal political process to be fascinating. Whether there is a right or wrong answer, I definitely feel it depends on what the priority of the country or community is at that time. Has the violence become untenable that compromise comes easy? Through this difficult question and Professor Laurance’s discussions afterwards, it became clear that he was right: peace is not about fairness or about development (at least in these instances, of intense violence).

I think that DDR can be extremely effective if it is accepted that DDR is a first step, and that the process that follows is just as arduous as laying down the guns. Similarly in his discussion about the CURE model, it became clear that he is a pragmatist. Conceding that there is nothing he can do about the quantity and accessibility of weapons on the streets of Chicago, it is clear that him and his colleagues are serious about finding creative ways to curb the amount of violence and homicide in that city. Overall, his talk was a good real word example of connecting much of the theory we covered last week (ie structural violence, trauma informed care etc), to hands-on practice – which I really appreciated, and I think the timing of his session was perfect. The thing I like most about the CURE model was the approach of assessing gun violence as a public-health dilemma. To me this seemed like an acknowledgment of past policy failures, and a commitment to finding a new path forward.

I think a lot of what Professor Laurance said was reinforced by what Julie Reynold’s included in her discussion with us, particularly relating to how peace building happens at all stages of the process. Without going into her talk in too much depth, I found the level to which the gang violence in California (and prisons here) is entrenched in a vicious cycle to be alarming. I really appreciated the level of depth and context which she went to great lengths to provide, as I found it particularly helpful as someone from outside of the U.S. who was pretty much oblivious to the extent of the unique criminal justice situation here. I think for me the most interesting take-away from her talk was the question she posed to us: Do the prisons design the gangs, or do the gangs design the prisons? In light of the discussion with Willie later on, it definitely seems clear that despite the fact that many of their rights are violated, privileges are restricted, and they are imprisoned, gangs and their members still seem to wield an enormous amount of influence for people who are supposed to be controlled by the prison-industrial complex, which is carrying out ‘justice.’

Exporting Western Ideologies Does Not Equal Sustainable Development

Today in Professor Ed Laurance’s discussion on the effect that development has on conflict, I thought a lot about how much of development has to do with using Western theories as the ‘right’ way in which development is done, and as the base for what defines development globally. We examined the sustainable development goals of the UN, and while I agree with each of the goals set, I do not think they will be reached if many organizations do not recognize the importance of using the knowledge of a local culture to implement these development goals. (This is not to discredit the organizations and programs that do use this knowledge, but to acknowledge that there are many organizations and programs that could do better.) We also discussed a case study of the use of text message reminders for Malaria treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa and what drawbacks we saw in the program, in reviewing its description. My group came up with the dependency that comes with having a reminder sent to you in order to take the drugs and how once the study is done, so is the effectiveness of that reminder. There is also the problem of relying on a cell phone that can easily die or lose service and the privilege that allows one to have constant access to a cellphone. There are other drawbacks such as the fact that the study did not include very young children, who are often affected by the disease, and focused on those in the private health sector since they are the ones who were privileged to the study.


However, what came to my mind as one of the most interesting drawbacks was when one of the others in the discussion brought up the hesitancy many people have to the drugs in the Western pharmaceutical industry and it got me thinking about what I have heard from people about their experience with Western medicine, especially in Jamaica. What I have found is that many times when Western medical techniques are brought to countries where their own holistic methods exist, the Western doctors almost force these ideas of medicine upon many people, bashing their cultural practices. This is not to say that many Western drugs, including the malaria drug do not have their countless benefits, but it is to criticize the approach with which many of these drugs and medicinal practices are presented. I find that whenever Western medicine is presented as superior or more chemically trusted, that many local peoples tend to trust it less because the way the drug and way of ‘medicinal development’ is presented is in a way that takes away from their own cultural practices, so, of course they reject it. It, therefore creates this idea that these medicinal tactics cannot be trusted and are not necessarily proven to work.

This does not only happen only in the medical field of development, but almost every other part of development. I think in order to have the sustainable development that the UN is striving for is to, not only, consider the current cultural practices or local ways of development that exist in many countries, but to be able to share those practices with those that are being suggested to come to a cohesive solution and development goal that benefits both parties. It is really important to have this conversation before exporting ideas that one considers to be the only way to develop and maintain a peaceful society.


Social Cohesion And Peacemaking

Our world has changed dramatically within a very few decades. Technology and globalization are having effects in our modern life, yet abject poverty and political repression are manifested in many parts of the globe. This is attributable greatly to the lack of peace and social cohesion.

I believe that all people, regardless of religion, tribe, ethnicity, race or station of life, share a common heritage and essence. This can inspire a common effort to build a world of sustainable peace. One of the numerous things I have learned so far in the Summer Peacebuilding Program, that is presently ongoing in the Center for Conflicts Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Monterey, is that divisions among nations, religions, and political leanings have increasingly polarized the human family. Hence, there is an urgent need for all, particular leadership with moral authority, to bridge divides and build social cohesion that can foster peace and prosperity for all humanity.

Civil society leaders, political and world’s religious leaders have a shared responsibility to transcend religious divides, among others, and work collaboratively to establish ethical, just and cohesive societies. As the co-author of ‘ Towards a Declaration of a Global Ethic ‘, Dr. Hans Kung, asserted, ” There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions.”

Week 1

This week gave me a lot of tools and clues to continue digging deeper into some topics.

Storytellling with Amy Hill showed me a great methodology in practice for reframing the person in a difficult situation to give them agency and let their story be heard. The technology session with Giselle Lopez and the session with Dr. Matthew gave me some inputs as to how the work I do in the GIS industry (not mentioned earlier because of me thinking it was apparently unrelated) can support peace work and how I can link both areas. The neuroscience & trauma session with Dr. Shah showed some paths I should research more into to improve my work with dance and the mind-body relation.

A couple of sessions focused on questions about development, hegemony, and structural violence, particularly with Dr. Matthew, Dr. Iyer, Dr. Glezner and Dr. Rubenstein. I think some more sessions will address this issues, and more ideas will come, so I am preparing a broader post on this for later on the course. As of now, I am very happy with the group, the sessions, the discussions, the presenters, and the opportunity to see how ODA and conflict studies look like in action in the US. So far our organizing as a team for the case study has been ok. I think we can work on our internal communication strategies, as happens with all teams at a starting phase. I am ready for the challenges that might arise. Really looking forward to the next weeks!

Conflict solving in a conflict-solving learner community

There is a friend in the course I have a particularly good relationship with. This person is very sincere and open with me, no political correctness involved and I really appreciate the honest conversations we have. This person told me “we all get along well because we are only here for a short period of time and it is not enough to make our differences uncomfortable and there is nothing to compete over, but if there was, our relationships wouldn’t be the same”.

 Image that came up while googling “good negotiation”.

That very same day we were presented with four study cases. We had to choose one and team up with other 4-5 persons to solve it along with one organization, which would be our task for the following weeks. The instruction was to decide all together at the end of the day. By the time that happened there was already a board with names on it and three out of the four teams were all full, even before all of the cases were presented. How were we to decide who would not be in the team of their first choice?

Dr. Iyer started a negotiation process and eventually the conflict was solved. But before this happened comments popped up about first come – first serve, about the last person having to be switched and then the majority would be ok. Isn’t this how some conflicts are solved in our society? Is this fair? Is this what justice and democracy should be? What happens when there are voices left behind, unheard? Who tend to be these voices? When does the project of equality I work for affect my interests and my privileges? What is  to be done about that?

I think everyone, but especially us as peacebuilders should ask themselves this questions if we want to be coherent.

Importance of Religious leaders!

I am not a big fan of religious leaders as they exercise tremendous power and represent the guardians of the rigid social structures. It makes me angry when they say that god has chosen them to serve the people and show them light when there is darkness all around them. However, my opinion on religious leaders are starting to shift after hearing father Cedrick Prakash.

It was an inspiring experience to hear Cedrick Prakash talk about the refugee crisis and the work he is doing to restore social order. His devotion for humanity and the values he carries for his work is worth mentioning. I found my values similar to his. I realized how important religious leaders can become in transforming the social orders and systems. The religious leaders have tremendous power to challenge the centralized system that enforces the cultural norm. In the field of peace building one should not ignore the importance of religious leaders as they sit a pile of social capital that can be mobilized for greater good. Hence, we need to build strong alliances with the religious leaders as they could be become the positive deviant for changing hearts and minds.

Cannot forget Environmental Conflicts

Normally, when I think about conflicts I usually think about religious, ethnic/racial, interstate, intrastate with foreign involvement, ideological, territorial, and economic. I tend to forget about environmental conflicts or resource conflicts.  This type of conflict is also important because it contributes to mass migration, global warming, and trafficking of all kinds (human, animal, and weapons). Listening to Professor Richard Matthew discuss environmental violence was intense.  He kept painting a bleak picture but it was information we needed to hear. It is not just resource scarce conflicts such as drought areas or lack of fertile land for farming that create massive problems but also certain resources creating problems as well such as the diamond or ruby trade.  I remember reading  from the UNEP report “From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment” about 18 conflicts/internal unrests that was caused by natural resources. The following resources are some of the resources that are the cause of these conflicts: timber, opium, diamonds, gold, oil, cocoa, coffee, rubber, and copper. From the readings and the lecture, I have realized that these conflicts will become more and more frequent and will eventually involve all the powerful nations at some point, which will definitely put weaker nations at a disadvantage and create bigger catastrophes for themselves. One thing that stuck with me from the lecture was the fact that the 8 richest individuals in the world have 0.2% of the global wealth and that the bottom 50% of the population constitute that same amount of global wealth (0.2%) as well.  Knowing that the wealthy and powerful continue to control the worlds resources is a scary thought.

Surprisingly similar

Peace means different things for different persons. Some discourses use the concept to justify any action into finishing with a conflict. As we saw in a session with Dr. Pushpa Iyer, Solving a conflict is not the same as supressing it.

In that session we saw the documentary Parzania. The complicity of local authorities in the events, revictimization of victims because of justice not being brought to them, and the further impunity of politicians who are still in posts, even higher now, reminds me of Mexico and a case in Atenco, where an airport was going to be built and the people who were against being displaced from their lands were brutally repressed in a controversial case that involves the person who is now president of my country. In another session we talked about ISIS, how it is providing a life project (along with promises of money and glory) for some youths, what some of their sources of income are and the strategy that is being used to fight them. This reminds me of the war on drugs in Mexico, how a cartel life appeals to young people with not a lot of options and how the government addressed the problem by not looking at it holistically but above all by spending more budget on security forces. I don’t mean to minimize the differences between these cases. The reason for conflict to arise in each are key elements to understand the root of the situation and to eventually  propose solutions, but it is very clear to me how similar the government responses are to treat the them. A generic negative peace approach to such diverse situations doesn’t seem like the best way to go. I think conflict experts who can analyse each situation in its complexity are fundamental. Yet, something else I am getting to understand we are also facing in different countries are the budget cuts, the lack of resources, the tendency to see non-profit organizations as not profitable and therefore not as worthy of resources as other activities. What is the value of peace? Is it measurable? Where does it fit in this economy and in our politics? In whose agenda is it to maintain conflicts unresolved? For conflict resolution strategies to work there needs to be political will. Nevertheless, as it has been stated in most of the sessions, change can happen one step at a time, one action at a time.



Terrorism has cause the death of many people in many part of the world. Some terror groups are known internationally while others with the same mission are operating at local level and causing the same havoc.
As I listen to Richard Rubenstein today discussing The Logic of Terrorism and fallacies of counter Terrorism my mind goes to how our leaders instead of finding ways to address terrorism, they make up rhetoric about them. Sadly these rhetoric’s do not address the pains and injuries inflicted on people.
Terrorism is violence aimed at achieving political, religious or ideological objectives. Their Attacks can be centrally directed from a structured organization or network or by individuals acting without any direct external control.
As these terror attacks continue, people now live in fear and uncertainty. Traveling to some countries today especially those that have had terrorist attacked is now no longer a fashionable thing because your family and love ones have to continue to keep vigil for you until your safe return.
Sadly all we read and hear from leaders of these nations is, the attack is barbaric, the terrorist are cowards, we vow to fight terror etc which has not in any way stop, dislodge or pursued the terrorist to stop attacking.
When will these great leaders and people of these countries take measures that will put the terrorist on the run or get them arrested before they do their evil? Some of these world leaders and citizens seems to be like presenters of major media such as CNN, BBC, Aljazeera, Sky news, ABC, to mention just a few who enjoy manipulating the stories as they present them to viewers and listeners but without solutions.
It is always sad to hear all the media want to achieve is getting ISIS or Al-Qaida and any other terrorist group to claimed responsibility. Has claiming responsibility ever bring succor to victims and their families? The truth is, Claiming responsibility is not what the victims, their family or citizens who are in danger want to know or hear.
There are many people in many parts of the world today who may have not pledge allegiance to ISIS or other terrorist group but have similar ideologies and will use any opportunity to kill or cause others harm.
I therefore submit that Leaders and the general public reaction by just calling terrorist names is not enough.
Security agencies must do their work to stop those who have acquired weapons or anything that can be used to cause people harm. Those in possession of any type of weapons must defend why they should be allowed to have or use weapons in their possessions.
The general public must also wake up to support and not just to seat and talk like some leaders do. When strange people come to your community what should you do? When you notice a suspicious person around you and in a questionable place, what will you do?

We cannot fight terrorist and win by just being rhetoric about them. They really don’t care what we say or what name we call them as long as they achieve their evil plot of killing and destroying others.
Let us join hands to stop terrorist from having their way.
If we must defeat terrorist and terrorism, everybody must do something not just saying something.

Veterans for Peace

I really appreciated listening to Phillip Butler talk about his life, service, and activism, especially his enthusiasm for the Veterans for Peace organization and being President of Chapter 46 for Veterans for Peace.  I am actually familiar with the Veterans for Peace, because I worked with the MIIS Veterans Student Club for my Organizational Sustainability (OS) project. My OS group and I attended an event that Veterans for Peace and MIIS Veterans Student Club hosted on the MIIS campus. The event was a Q&A with former U.S Representative Sam Farr. We asked questions regarding the Peace Corps and his experience in Colombia, his political career, and political activism under the Trump Era. When Phillip Butler came to talk about Veterans for Peace, it was great to learn more about Phillip Butler’s life and why he joined the military. It was also incredible to learn how being in the military changed his perspective on war and how he became an agent for peace.  During the Vietnam War, he became a POW for 2,855 days. Knowing his experience only goes to show how veterans like him can make great agents for peace because these soldiers know the real cost of war and why peace is necessary.

In addition to learning more about Phillip Butler, I learned more about Veterans for Peace being an international organization and that they allowed nonveterans to join the organization. It was also important to hear from the other two veterans who were present during the Veterans for Peace presentation and why they joined the military. Lastly, it was powerful to listen to one of the veteran’s (Justin Loza) “Bernie or Bust” poem. I also appreciate that the Veterans for Peace protest against wars and asked for a task force addressing torture.

What I learned is that I have greater respect to veterans who challenge the system and question the reasons for war. It also occurred to me that people join the military for many reasons even though I still do not understand why given the issues surrounding Veteran treatment and homelessness. For me, I have always been conflicted about the United States military. First, I do not support war no matter what. Second, my father served in the United States Army as a Latino immigrant and I never got to know him.

Overall, I hope that Veterans for Peace can continue the great work and attempt to try to change the military machine and culture.

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