Juan E. Ugarriza, Class 4 (2005-2007)
Twenty Blogs for 20 Years
Juan E. Ugarriza graduated in 2007 with a master’s degree in Global History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Following his graduation, he went on to obtain a Ph.D in Political Science from the University of Bern and now serves as a faculty professor at Universidad del Rosario in Bogota, Colombia. Throughout his career, he has focused his research and advisory work on conflict termination and post-conflict peacebuilding in Colombia.
In March 2007, a group of individuals convened in a private room at Duke University to discuss solutions to the armed conflict in Colombia. Among the attendees were a former Minister of Defense from the right-wing Colombian government, a former Human Rights Watch representative for Colombia who was a fierce critic of the same government, an active member of Amnesty International, and a couple of academic experts on the Colombian case. The discussion was led by Terry Barnett, a beloved and late professor of negotiation, and was made possible by the Rotary Center staff.
As the organizers of the meeting, we were both humbled and excited to have the full support of Susan Carroll, James Peacock, and Francis Lethem, the heads of the Center, in bringing together people from all ends of the political spectrum to find practical solutions to end the armed conflict in Colombia.
One of the most significant outcomes of the meeting left a lasting impression on my future career. Despite clear ideological differences, all participants agreed on one key point: instead of attempting to persuade armed groups in Colombia, particularly the revolutionary guerrillas, in good faith, they had to be forced to the negotiating table. This realistic approach, coming from human rights defenders and right-wing politicians alike, added a pragmatic perspective that has stayed with me since then, alongside the idealism that led me in the first place to pursue Peace and Conflict Studies at the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center.
I consider the phone call I received from Chapel Hill at my workplace in 2005 to be a life-changing moment. The trust that the Rotary Foundation placed in me to make such an investment, with the hope of making a positive impact on human peace, has left me personally indebted forever.
Almost two decades after my graduation from the University of North Carolina, I remain deeply committed to a lifelong vow to pursue peace in my country, a commitment I could never have made without the belief of those who supported me in Chapel Hill.
As I reflect on my journey, I recall my mentors in Chapel Hill, who enabled me to work for years in the field with demobilized ex-combatants, war victims, and receiving communities in Colombia, attempting to solve the riddle of how to help peoples live together after decades of violence.
Just as Terry paved the way for me to join future peace attempts with the Colombian guerrillas, other professors also guided my career in unexpected ways. It was Maureen Moriarty-Lempke who first saw potential in me to pursue scientific research as a way to make a difference. And it was our late Jürg Steiner who welcomed me as his Ph.D. student in Political Science to make it happen. Pursuing an academic career later opened an unexpected pathway to spend four years as a delegate and advisor to the Colombian delegation to the peace talks with the ELN guerrillas.
In March 2016, I found myself sitting in a ceremonial room in Caracas, Venezuela, as an official delegate, poised to sign the formal agreement that kickstarted a new peace process between the Colombian Government and the last guerrilla group in Latin America, the ELN. To the best of my ability, I endeavored to stay focused on maintaining a balance between hopefulness and realism in my role as an advisor, as I had learned during my time in Chapel Hill.
As I write these lines, I am sitting in a cafeteria at El Rosario University in Bogotá, Colombia, reflecting on the tangible contributions my mentors in Chapel Hill have made, not just through me but also through dozens of peace graduates around the world. I also contemplate how promoting peace in Colombia appears to be a never-ending and complex task. Hopefully, more students from UNC and Duke as well as other Rotary Peace Centers will come to lend us a much-needed hand.