Critics: University for Peace Not Peaceful, Nor Transparent
(Part three in a four-part series about theUniversity for Peace)MEETING with James Latham, DonSnedeker and James Wallerstedt feels likewalking into a counseling group for recoveringvictims. They come together to sharetheir experiences and heal.“We want to make sure this doesn’thappen to other people,” said Wallerstedt,47, a San Diego, California, native wholived in Costa Rica until recently.One might never guess the three aretalking about the University for Peace, aUnited Nations-chartered school locatedoutside Ciudad Colón, 25 kilometers westof San José.“We share our stories, our tearful stories.And it is not just us, but others whohave come forward,” Latham said.LATHAM is the station manager forRadio for Peace International (RFPI),which until last November was located onthe UPEACE campus. The station’s 16-year presence there ended in eviction aftera two-year battle with university administrators(TT, Nov. 14, 2003).RFPI is one example of the controversythe university has faced since U.N.Secretary General Kofi Annan called for arevitalization of UPEACE in 1999 (TT,Oct. 8). To begin, he brought in as rectorU.N. Undersecretary General MauriceStrong, who himself is both heralded andhated worldwide.Strong is known by some as anextreme environmentalist and others as ashrewd businessman who has made a fortuneexploiting the earth’s resources, witha history in Canada’s oil and energy industry.Some analysts have mentioned him asAnnan’s possible successor.THE new administration led byStrong has left a bitter taste in somemouths. Former employees and othersclose to the university have made accusationsthat the new administration – thesixth since the university’s foundation in1980 – lacks experience in education andis unresponsive to, and defensive of, complaintsand problems.These complaints include concern thepeace university is inharmoniously trainingpolice and military figures, somethingthey say is particularly inappropriate inmilitary-free Costa Rica.Critics such as Snedeker, who workedas a marketing consultant for the universityfrom April 2002 to June 2003 and hasmore than 15 years university-level educationexperience, believe the shift towardeducation of military forces is indicativeof an overall approach to programmingthat is problematic at best, and financiallyirresponsible at worst.The university’s relationship with theEarth Council, which fled Costa Rica lastyear after shady land dealings (TT, June4), is another point of contention.However, UPEACE officials maintainthat despite early resistance to change, theuniversity is making positive steps towardtheir goal to create peace through education(TT, Oct. 1).WHEN RFPI left the UPEACE campusnearly one year ago, it took many ofCosta Rica’s peace-seekers with it. Thebattle between the two “peaceful” entitiesgave some the impression the university’scommitment to conflict resolution is okayfor Sudan but not Ciudad Colón.“The Costa Rican government waswilling to mediate to resolve the situationin a peaceful manner … but UPEACE didnot want to be a part of this process, theysaid they don’t want to be a part of whatthey teach – conflict resolution,” Lathamtold The Tico Times recently.UPEACE founder and former CostaRican President Rodrigo Carazo (1978-1982) agreed there was not enough disclosureor comprehension on the part of theuniversity about the RFPI situation.“I was a member of the RFPI council.I suffered a lot, hurt a lot, because of whathappened. I love RFPI,” he said.UPEACE originally served RFPI withan eviction notice in July 2002 based onclaims the station was operating without alegal contract and had not paid outstandingdebts to the university. RFPI refuted theclaims, saying it was authorized byUPEACE in 1990 to build a building andantenna system on the campus for itsexclusive use. The $725,000 investmentmade by RFPI in this building intensifiedits battle to stay, Latham said.“There was a decision made at thehigher levels (of UPEACE) that theywanted (RFPI) out at all costs, and theyweren’t going to negotiate,” saidSnedeker, 48, who has lived in Costa Ricafor 20 years.The station was forced to stop broadcastingnearly one year ago whenUPEACE cut the power to the buildingand put barbed wire around the gate.RFPI is not the only land disputeinvolving UPEACE officials. Strong andthe former UPEACE director of financeand personnel Krishnamurthy Panchapakeboth held positions in the Earth Council,which is currently entangled in two lawsuitswith the Costa Rican government.The Government Attorney’s Officeclaims the Earth Council – created as aninternational body to promote the environmentalpolicies established at the EarthSummit in Río de Janeiro in 1992 – owesCosta Rica $1.65 million for wrongfullyselling property donated by the governmentfor the exclusive use by the EarthCouncil or a similar organization.STRONG was a Council board memberand Panchapake its legal representativeduring the time of the land sale. Andafter goals fell through to build a model ofsustainable architecture on the more than20 donated acres in Santa Ana, southwestof San José, Strong moved the EarthCouncil offices to UPEACE. The land wasthen allegedly sold to recover costs.In the midst of the government’s accusationsand demand of $1.65 million, theEarth Council moved to Canada inDecember 2003. While the Council’s Website (www.ecouncil.ac.cr) said the movewould be temporary, their forwardingphone number in Canada is now disconnected.The Government Attorney’s office,meanwhile, said the lawsuits could takeyears to resolve.UPEACE officials have declined tocomment on the Earth Council situation,telling The Tico Times it involves a separateentity. School representatives havealso declined to comment on RFPI, sayingthat situation is resolved.Lack of transparency and responsivenessis one of the main chargesdirected against the new UPEACEadministration.Latham, Snedeker and Wallerstedt saythey have received no response to theirconcerns in letters, phone calls and e-mailsto the UPEACE administration and council,who are from all over the world.Wallerstedt – who served as a volunteer atUPEACE in 2002 and 2003 – believescomplaints he raised about the schoolcaused him to be banned from the campus.However, UPEACE officials say no one isbanned from the campus, although anappointment is required to enter.STUDENTS say the school has addressed the negative sentiment regardingthe RFPI controversy on campus.“They may not be able to keep the communityinformed, but they do a good job ofkeeping us informed,” said 33-year-old studentRegina Eddleman, from the UnitedStates, who recently completed her master’sdegree in international peace studies.Professor Adekayo Adekson said variousprofessors have made a concertedeffort to avoid becoming an insular institution.He added that the institution isaccountable to its board, its students andits donors, adding layers of supervisionthat demand transparency.But Rafael Velásquez, a 24-year-oldPeruvian student who in December willcomplete his master’s degree in internationalpeace studies, said the universitycould use some work in this area.“TRANSPARENCY is a tricky word,but I would say the university could do abetter job outreaching to the communityand informing. I don’t think there is anyblockade of information, but the universitycould make more information readilyavailable,” he said.Latham said that before being evictedfrom the campus, RFPI recorders and otherpress video cameras were banned from aninformational meeting held in 2000 byStrong, who is now president of theUPEACE council. At the meeting Strongannounced the school would have somemilitary training programs.Last year, UPEACE held a trainingcourse for police and military officials onhuman security and trafficking of firearms.This and other proposals for trainingmilitary has been one of the most controversialissues of UPEACE (see sidebar).MILITARY training is just one aspectof UPEACE’s programming Snedeker hasissues with. When his contract as marketingadvisor was ended after 15 months, hewrote a report saying the universityadministration is excessively dependenton donations, rather than student tuition,offers 10-month master’s programs thatare too short to be called master’s, andlacks experience in education.Latham agreed.“I think there are people who areplaced in positions there as politicalfavors,” he said.But UPEACE administrators boast that,as a U.N. institution, their professors andadministrators come from the best of thebest of global educators and peacemakers.FOUNDER Carazo said his only complaintis that classes, which draw studentsfrom around the world, are no longertaught in Spanish. Courses were formerlytaught in Spanish and English, he said.“To come to Costa Rica to learnEnglish is ridiculous. If you close yourmind to Spanish, you are never going tounderstand what 800 million people in theworld have to say,” he said.Snedeker has other suggestions toimprove UPEACE. Not only should thelength of programs be increased, theyshould conclude with final projectsinvolving internships and job-relatedwork, he said.Although he is no longer officiallyinvolved in UPEACE, he and the rest ofhis support group, which have a Web siteat www.upclg.org, hope the universitywill take their concerns and recommendationsinto consideration as it looks to thefuture.(Next: Read about UPEACE administrators’plans for the future.)Does it Take an Army?“THE world has enough military academies,we need a peace academy,” has beenthe refrain of the University for Peace sinceits creation 24 years ago.But since the United Nations set about tomake the school more effective, the linesbetween the two types of institutions havebeen blurred into a controversial haze.In the past two years, the school hashosted several seminars in which military officialswere trained on human security, illicittraffic of firearms and drugs, and terrorism.Groups ranging from 40 to 800 police andmilitary officials from throughout LatinAmerica attended the seminars, which werefrom several days to several weeks long.In military-free Costa Rica, this is not onlycontroversial, it is an affront to the law,according to opponents. However, sinceUPEACE is a U.N.-chartered institution, itscampus is considered U.N. soil and as suchenjoys diplomatic immunity and privileges.There’s no doubt the concept of trainingmilitaries in peacekeeping missions ispolemic.“The problem is when you send soldiers,people who are trained for war, to bringpeace, they don’t have the necessary mentality,”said UPEACE student RafaelVelásquez, 24, who is finishing his thesis,which proposes an accountability system forpeacekeeping missions.UPEACE rector Martin Lees said the universitymust be careful about educating militaryofficials, while also being practical. Thefact is, the military plays a large role in governmentin many countries, so when asked totrain members of militaries, the school tendsto say yes, Lees said.University founder Rodrigo Carazo, formerCosta Rican President (1978-1982),said he opposes training military groups, butsupports educating their leaders.“I do want to see military leaders get aneducation in peace,” he said.
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