Sabine Kurtenbach

Why is Liberal Peacebuilding so Difficult? Some Lessons from Central America

European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies / Revista Europea De Estudios Latinoamericanos Y Del Caribe


According to the liberal peace-building paradigm, the termination of war is a window of opportunity for fundamental change. Central America has been one of the first laboratories of international policies promoting the threefold transformation process of pacification, democratization and economic liberalization. Although none of the postwar countries (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala) slipped back into war, serious deficits abound that can neither be explained as mere consequences of war nor as ‘normal’ developmental problems. The paper introduces an analytical framework locating these problems at the intersection between external influences, societal foundations, consequences of war and violence as well as peace-building. The comparative analysis of the three transformation processes—democratization, market economy and pacification—shows how path dependent patterns remain dominant while reform processes are fragile. This allows for an explanation of common features as well as differences inside the region.