Central America Roundtables
Recognizing a need in a region torn by civil war, Vesper Society was part of a partnership that orchestrated a series of Central America Roundtables aimed at achieving peace.
In 1990, Vesper Society partnered with Georgetown University and the Washington Center for Central American Studies to sponsor a roundtable discussion among top-level representatives from across the political spectrum in El Salvador. A second roundtable was held in 1991 to continue these discussions among government, labor, church, military, and insurgent parties to find common ground by focusing on long-range planning for post-war progress and prosperity.
The roundtables were successful and made a significant impact on the peace process. The civil war in El Salvador came to an end in 1992. These gatherings were a precursor to the first Guatemala Roundtable that contributed to their 1996 peace accords.
In 1993, the United Nations asked the international community to actively participate in supporting the formal Guatemalan peace process through organizing projects focusing on informal diplomacy. In response, Dr. Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and Vesper Society collaborated to support the peace process in Guatemala.
Vesper Society’s mission at that time was to create opportunities for individuals and institutions to apply moral and ethical values in decision-making on critical social and economic issues. Our vision was to create a compassionate world that protects human dignity and enhances human potential.
This vision guided the methodology of bringing together carefully-selected individuals in a structure that provided a direct experience with a working democracy—giving equal worth and opportunity to all participants and utilizing techniques designed to move participants beyond their narrow individual interests into a larger vision of the common good.
The 1994 roundtable was held in San Francisco’s Presidio and aimed to assist in creating conditions for a stable and enduring peace in Guatemala. The format and structure enabled participants to find common ground by focusing on positive visions for the long-term future of the country and involved all stakeholders representing all sectors of society.
The five themes identified through the planning process were: Guatemala and trade in the hemisphere; economic and social conditions for human development; relationships between civil and military authorities; democracy, pluralism, and human rights; and the need for cultural diversity. The discussions were successful, in part, due to a mix of participants from the business sector and from indigenous populations. Bringing together groups of people who were in direct and violent conflict and creating dialogue and collaboration after 36 years of civil war was truly groundbreaking.
At the time of the roundtable, the formal peace process was temporarily suspended due to non-implementation of previous agreements. Shortly after the close of the roundtable, the formal negotiations resumed with the signing of the “Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous People.” When the peace accords were signed in December of 1996, four of the signatories had been roundtable participants.
The peace accords represented a successful conclusion for Vesper Society’s Guatemala initiative. However, the goal was not only to attain peace but to attain a sustainable peace with participatory leadership.
In 1997, Vesper Society organized a colloquium for private sector leaders from Central America and North America. The Guatemalan leaders shared their concerns that the recently achieved peace was still fragile. They asked Vesper Society to continue working with Guatemalan leaders on additional Roundtable dialogues to strengthen democracy and social collaboration.
A planning committee assembled and planned the second Guatemalan roundtable. The initial May 1998 meeting in Antigua, Guatemala, was followed by two additional roundtable discussions in November 1998 and February 1999.
These were not easy gatherings to hold. Immediately before the first meeting, the bishop who was managing a major human rights report was assassinated. The second event happened right after the disastrous Hurricane Mitch. At the third convening, a key presidential candidate had to withdraw from the meeting.
The participants and planning committee overcame these challenges, and their perseverance resulted in specific policy recommendations and a plan entitled: “Visualizing Guatemala in the 21st Century.” The recommendations and plan were presented at a National Forum in June 1999.
Raquel Zelaya, the Guatemalan Secretary of the Peace at the time of the roundtable, led the team that developed the peace accords and was a member of the roundtable planning team. In speaking about the roundtables, she said, “Initiatives of dialogue and agreement have allowed sectors once divided and embattled to analyze the present state of the country realistically, pinpointing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats… They have successfully created a vision of the State in 2020, a vision all Guatemalans should aspire to… the Roundtable should prove to be of great importance for Guatemala.”
Vesper Society is proud to have been of assistance at that particular time in Guatemala’s history.