I met Lord John Alderdice and Jeffrey Donaldson this October, when they came to our Conflict Resolution Theory course at The Fletcher School to give a talk about their experiences in Northern Ireland and the work of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building. I will fully admit that prior to that moment most of what I knew about Northern Ireland came from Sunday Bloody Sunday (both the movie and U2’s song) and some episodes of Sons of Anarchy. That is, I barely knew anything about it. I come from México and, although we have strong sympathy towards the Irish people (especially because of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion), I have focused most of my research on the conflict that my home country is going through.
As Alderdice and Donaldson spoke to us about their stories and views on Northern Ireland, I was simply blown away by how a conflict that is so far away and so different is, at heart, also very close and similar. As they talked about relationships, identity, and the importance of language, I could only nod emphatically. When they mentioned the need for closing the gap between political elites and civil society and engaging civil society in the peace process, I could have sworn they were talking about Mexico.
The tragedy of Ayotzinapa, where 43 students were kidnapped by municipal policemen and then handed over to the local drug cartel, has sparked the biggest civilian mobilization I have seen in my country in recent years. It’s not only the tragedy itself, it’s the fact that violence has become part of our lives: over 20,000 people have “disappeared” during the last 8 years, and estimates of murders related to drug violence and the drug war range between 60,000 and 100,000. It is becoming less and less easy to call it a “security issue” and increasingly appropriate to simply call it a “civil war.” The violence may or may not decrease, but we still will have relationships to fix and identities to figure out. Perhaps Mexico and Northern Ireland have more in common than I had thought, and hopefully we can share our experiences and learn from each other.
By Héctor Portillo, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University