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  • Mar 27, 2023
  • 6 minutes

The nonviolent movement, a reflection of the construction of peace in Latin America

Poncho Hernandez

I write this as an activist and an organizer of activists, I have shared my experiences and knowledge at gatherings and seminars across the globe.  Through this I have met a variety of people dedicated to different causes.  During these last years, I’ve acted as a facilitator in collaboration with the United States Institute of Peace (“USIP”), in the Acción Nonviolenta en América Latina program, which share a methodology of teaching about the construction of peace in combination with civil resistance.  In the workshops that I facilitated, I had the opportunity to meet many activists, some of which I had worked with in their firsts for social justice in their respective countries to bring understanding about non-violence.  

In this blog post I will reflect on those dialogues and the form in which they all understand the construction of peace: a permanent process, which begins in the closest relationships, starting with oneself – peace of mind, emotional, material tranquility, etc. – and proceeds to the broadest social processes, including political conflicts.  The construction of peace, for them, has the long term vision of transforming the sociocultural structures, accepting the humanity and dignity of all, and the abandonment of the bi polar view of the world and society for one that is multidimensional and is unifying, where the changes in the economic and cultural structures will come when all are included and their needs recognized.

This is why I name the nonviolent movement, is to say, the paradigm shifts from violent confrontation to transform the power and society to use their own methods of civil resistance and the construction of peace in sociopolitical conflicts.  The objective of these movements is to construct societies that are more plural, equitable, with peace and justice.  

My voyage began in India, in the first international class of Gandhian nonviolence at the university Gujarat Vidyapith, founded by the same Mahatma Gandhi.  Since this seminary, I’ve participated over the course of 20 years in these classes in different parts of Latin America, both as a student and an instructor: traveling to universities and working with community organizations and setting up virtual meetings.  Through these spaces of dialogue, I became connected to a diverse group of activists: exiled Nicaraguans who resisted repression, youth who bring the violence in Colombia to the forefront, Venezuelans searching for space in an authoritarian system that does not permit another voice to exist, and others.  I’ve had discussions with Cuban evangelical pastors, with whom I share their first for freedom of religion, Justice, and democracy, but at the same time I disagree with their views on sexual diversity for example.  I’ve shared with Bolivians and Ecuadorians, activists mostly of indigenous roots, whose cultures preserve the principals of nonviolence and respect for life.  

In these spaces we also interchanged ideas about the construction of movements and strategies in the long term, that surpass the dichotomy between socialism and capitalism, and they speak of a new political culture in which the vision of their movements conceptualizes as a fight for life, in all its facets.  What are the strategies that they placed in marching order in front of their problems and how do they combine them in their movements?

Most of the countries share common issues.  The intersection of violence, authoritarian regimes, destruction of natural areas, forced displacement, united in the fight against unofficial groups and paramilitaries, make it so that the movements in each country have a vast variety of protests, for causes and tendencies.  I inquired about the specific problem in each context as to better understand their responses and they showed me the possibility of transforming the economic violence towards the environment and the society.  This is the case of Oruro, Bolivia, where the community has organized to create a cooperative of sustainable miners to work the mines from a vision of the local community and the environment, or in Colombia and Mexico, where the artists have united in the fight against violence and have generated a great number of cultural projects.  

The diversity of problems has resulted in an abundance of tactics of resistance.  I’ve observed that in the majority of the cases, the fact that social movements have opted for nonviolent approaches, and the towns with a history of guerilla groups and armed fights against the government, have changed their point of view on armed struggles and have opted for movements that enter the definition of civil resistance:  Nonviolent methods of transforming power Nonviolent methods for transforming power.

In conversations with an exiled Nicaraguan who went by the name of Blanco (White) – in reference to the movements flag colors which consist of blue and white – he informed me that he hadn’t had any prior experience of prior knowledge about civil resistance and the nonviolent movement, except for a mobilization at the university in his country in one of the most difficult nights against the students.  He and his colleagues had to counter that political charge with nonviolent methods, with self-defense and an attempt to not cause further injuries.  He told me, “we’ve had so many years of war in Nicaragua that the last thing we want are more casualties”.  Blanco’s voice resonates in demands for democracy in Venezuela or for the freedom of religious expression in Cuba and the rest of the world.  

In every movement I find this turn to a nonviolent approach, in which the tactics of the past have lost relevance with the people and new values have been instilled in the activists.  Where the relative principles of the environment, the relation between generations in the movements, the empowerment of women, respect for life, and denouncing the use of violence, makes it so that these movements are more inclined to use nonviolent methods and search for the construction of communities of dialogue, seeking to create spaces of understanding, participation and understanding.  

The turn to nonviolent movements can be observed in both dialogues and in concrete actions, as in their objectives of movements and in their long-term vision.  This ideology implicates a real change of orientation, where the search for opening dialogues for democratic participation form part of the vision of these movements for, not only deals with changing regimes but more so a deeper change. Dictatorships are a thing of the past, it is no longer an idea that the new generation of activists share, as they view their struggle as an act of hope for humanity and for the motherland, against injustice, and for a world where everyone has a place.

During these last years we have witnessed an increase of a social movement in all Latin America, including during the pandemic.  There were also movements in the heart of north American nations against racial violence and genocide.  In all of these, despite the provocations and tendencies to use violence, the leadership of the movement kept the nonviolent spirit and invited all to maintain it, they were committed to nonviolence with their town.  

The nonviolent movements in Latin America present an example to the nonviolent fight which gives a great advancement in the prolific tactics of innovation and fight now that the civil resistance requires a high level of experiments and imagination.  In the same way, the activists have a process of building peace which is the tool for dialogue.  

The movements in Latin America and the rest of the world have given us great examples of the nonviolent struggles, and  have given great advancements in the prolific tactics of innovation and the  fight; presently civil resistance requires a high level of imagination and experimentation.  Similarly, the activists have a process of peace building which is the tool of dialogue.  Transforming violent conflicts, by forming diverse spaces, to provide training and cover professional themes.  These learning spaces are fertile land to share experiences and to create groups.  These organizations transmit values and sentiments and listen with empathy and try to see the options that could better suit everyone, building peace day by day, within their own collectives and for their countries, who need real peace and justice for all.  

Poncho Hernandez

Philosopher, anthropologist, activist, and expert of Mexico.  He has more than 10 years lecturing about nonviolence and has participated in a variety of movements for peace, community work and protection of the environment.

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