Thought and Action at the University for Peace: An interview with Julio Quan

Professor Julio Quan is a political scientist. Until ten years ago he taught at the medical school in Guatemala City. After the deaths in 1980 of almost 100 academics at the hands of army-linked death squads, he left Guatemala for Costa Rica. Now he is the Director of the Conflict Resolution Program at the University for Peace, assisted by Maralise Hood. They travel all over the world presenting training seminars of peaceful negotiation and advancing ideas on national security founded on non-military social-based defence. Joanna Santa Barbara interviewed Professor Quan in July, 1990 in Costa Rica, in a setting of extraordinary beauty. The university is high in the mountains, overlooking the fertile Central Valley to a distant volcanic range. A wonderful fragrance, perhaps from flower farms, is carried on the breeze. Eagles soared in updrafts.

By Joanna Santa Barbara (interviewer) | 1990-10-01 12:00:00

Julio Quan: The idea of the university for peace came from Don Rodrigo Carazo, the President of Costa Rica between 1978 and 1982. He proposed to the U.N. the idea of a university whose job was research, teaching, and distribution of ideas about peace.

Our mandate is post-graduate work. We are creating a Master's Degree Program to introduce in all six Central Arnerican countries. Peace education in informal education, and in grammar schools, secondary and university.

Santa Barbara: What do you mean by "informal education"?

Quan: Non-formal kinds of education, including the mass media. In each country we form a national commission in peace education, to help locals do what they need to do. The University will provide them with experts, but it is their program which is going to be developed. So a person is elected by the peopte who are doing this kind of education at the grammar, high school, university or informal level. They form the national ommission and, through the Ministry of Education in each country, link with the University for Peace. These experts will come to the University and train in the Master's Degree program. Their theses will be on one specific problem they have found in their countries, so that when they return home they will be trained for what they have already identified as needing to be changed. We are not creating artificial people who are going to fulfil a so-called "market" that doesn't exist. These programs are filled by people who are going to carry them on. The idea is for the University to do less and less while the locals do more and more.

Panama is interested in this because they want demilitarization. The U.S. military bases in Panama put $400 million into the hands of Panamanians. The people who work for the U.S. Army are dependent on it; we have to find a way for them tosurvive. Warindustryis highly technical and capital intensive, while nonviolent peace relationships are labor intensive. So there is opportunity to create jobs. Especially in the Third World, being labor intensive is more appropriate to our societies; what we have is labor.

Santa Barbara: What do you envisage teaching educators? What would a curriculum took like at this stage?

Quan: We have already met with the Costa Rican Peace Education Corn-mission and presented the basic curriculum to the supervisors.

Santa Barbara: Youalready have a commission in Costa Rica?

Quan: It is a combination of the Ministry of Education, the University for Peace, and the Peace Centre, which is a Quaker centre. Canadian Quakers gave us money for this program. The curriculum had to be refined, and one of the ways to refine it was to present it to all of the supervisors and local directors of the education system in Costa Rica. We organized five two-day seminars all over the country. That curriculum was thoroughly cxamined by the people who are in charge of developing it, so we learned a lot.

Our people are going to Panama to explain our experience in Costa Rica and how to do a similar thing in the Panamanian situation. They will do the same in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and possibly Guatemala and Honduras.

We have been "selling" the idea of a Master's degree in Negotiation by saying to the five Central American Presidents when they signed the Esquipulas Agreement that the University for Peace would train them in negotiation. The peace plan calls for a negotiated solution.

When the Sandinistas were governing Nicaragua, they wanted to learn how North Arnericans negotiated. They had been trying to negotiate with the U.S. but the American negotiators were far ahead of their Nicaraguan counterparts. So we started the first seminar on negotiation in Nicaragua, at the invitation of the government, at the same time saying that we had to be impartial. We offered exactly the same kind of course to the political opponents of the Sandinistas. Actually, the Sandinistas insisted that we do that.

The University for Peace is a United Nations institution; therefore we cannot just work with governments. We work with other groups that need to negotiate solutions. Old people are a problem in the Third World: who negotiates for them? Nobody. Also, women have been traditionally oppressed by the machismo in Latin Arnerica. Who negotiates for women? Everywhere, people who need to negotiate have no chance to do so.

Santa Barbara: What do you tell educators about the methodology of peace education?

Quan: In the paternalistic pattern, the teacher becomes a god-like father figure. We teach democratic ways lo run a classroom, which is complicated because they are not accustomed to that. Also, you have to create confidence.

We establish a problem solving approach. Thenwe show them ahistorical context where nonviolent resolution of conflict has been applied not for them to copy but to inspire them to start looking at how their own society does these things. In every society there is a way to resolve conflicts. So instead of just pure content our idea is methodological-how to do it. We provide them with a little networking-who is doing what in education around the world-and we provide them with a way for them to communicate internationally, regionally and nationally. We are trying to promote networking in every University program.

Santa Barbara: It seems that, for Central Arnerican thinkers, your worlds of thought and action are more closely related than ours.

Quan: Problems arise when human needs are not fulfilled, so we start with needs. What we try to do is push people to analyze that underneath every conflict theie is a problem, and to find Out the unfulfilled needs of the people that result in the problem. We use system analysis to understand what the conflict is about.

For example, people always say, "God! They are killing ten people a day again in Guatemala." That is very sad but you always look at the ten and forget the 125 children that die every day of the structural violence of the land tenure system. For us it is as important to seconeaspectas the other. So when we talkabout unfulfilled needs we have the chance to analyze institutions, Structures and relations. It is at the moment of fulfilling needs and wants that you actually are creating peace. We have to restructure society tocreate new institutions, to change the old ones.

Many plans for development of the Third World nations are counterinsurgency plans from the Alliance for Progress in Latin America. In Southeast Asia, there is exactly the same thing done by the U.S.; and in Africa. How on earth can we deveelop our plans are based on counterinsurgency? We have to switch the attention and focus it on human needs and wants.

Joanna Santa Barbara practices psychiatty in Ha ilton and teaches peace.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1990

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1990, page 20. Some rights reserved.

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