Something serious is happening in Latin America and the Caribbean. On the one hand, the region is more prosperous, people live longer and are better educated. However the political and social context is resurrecting conflict in ways that we are sadly too familiar with.
This is due to issues such as multidimensional poverty, high levels of political polarization and distrust in state institutions, unequal distribution of resources, fragile democratic processes, as well as mass migration, that have arrived to stay. They have generated social unrest and a breakdown in the social fabric.
Can peace be built? Yes, it can, but we must rapidly turn around our understanding of governance to allow for economic development and meaningful participation, as well as creating opportunities for peaceful co-existence.
The dynamics that afflict the region demand the urgent identification of positive reinforcements that go beyond the short-term responses and allow new realities to emerge.
This is achieved with an improvement in democratic governance where dialogue is placed at the centre. Dialogue is the predisposition to listen rather than to answer, to connect rather than to atomize and to integrate rather than divide. With dialogue we reach the identification of shared minimums and contribute to sustainable peace. Inclusive dialogue allows those who are not normally part of the decision-making process to be given a voice, with the premise to understand rather than answer, learn rather than refute, and integrate rather than separate.
Dialogue accepts the possibility of ideas different from one’s own; that allows you to learn from others, from their perceptions, assumptions and judgments. From a regional standpoint, what would have happened to Central America without the dialogue that ended the civil wars in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua in the 1980s? What would have happened to the countries of the Southern Cone, as well as the end of dictatorships between the decade of 70-80, in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia?
And on the global stage what would have happened to South Africa without Mandela's dialogue? And, what would India be without Gandhi? Where his role in the dialogues and negotiations in the quest of freedom for his country was essential, his struggle based on truth and nonviolence were the engine of change for the construction of peace as a new reality.
Practically speaking, dialogue contributes to peace as a dynamic process of constructive transformation in social, political, cultural, economic, institutional, and spiritual, fields. Dialogue considers the characteristics of each region or country, and bets on the evolution of human relations, taking diversity into account.
Within this peacebuilding task at UNDP we have developed methodologies and implemented dialogue processes. The practical guide to “Democratic Dialogue” (Spanish) points out strategic guidelines that we must reinforce to reduce conflict and improve peaceful coexistence.
Another methodology to avoid the escalation of violence is the "Early Warning Systems to Respond to Social Conflicts". (Spanish) It identifies the causes of a conflict, predicting its outbreak and reducing its impact with a timely intervention. It also considers a set of recommendations to strengthen governance.
These guides allow the various actors to understand democratic dialogue as the quintessential process for the peaceful resolution of conflicts. The dialogue goes through stages, which begin with exploration, move to process design, implementation and monitoring of results.
The current situation in the region requires that we increase the strength of democratic dialogues as spaces to generate and reflect, as a tool for managing critical moments, crisis or post crisis, as a strategic discussion to promote joint visions, in order to transform relationships that unite us and lead to consensus.