Ep. 20:  Elvira Maria Restrepo


Show Notes

  • Susan hosting Elvira Restrepo upon recommendation by Susan’s long time negotiation colleague and friend, Pablo Restrepo Saénz, http://alunacatalyst.com, Elvira’s brother.
  • Elvira is a professor at the University of Miami; her teaching and research spans several disciplines including conflict resolution, women’s studies, human rights, and peace building—with a focus on Latin America.
  • Elvira is currently on academic leave while she works with President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos.
  • Elvira has always been interested in justice, specifically crime reduction.
  • Colombia’s turbulent history drives Elvira’s interest in conflict resolution and peace building.
  • At an early age, Elvira became aware of the inequality within Colombia. And she understood that violence came as both a cause and an effect of this social imbalance.
  • Without inclusive social and economic policies, developing countries run the risk of experiencing violence and/or governments with totalitarian tendencies.
  • Colombia’s democracy has been very exclusive. This, says Elvira, has enabled the rise of Colombia’s guerilla groups.
  • The guerilla groups were—at least initially—justified in their fight for a more inclusive political system.
  • Elvira is now working with President Santos, following an attempted peace accord between the Colombian Government and the FARC Guerillas.
  • The public referendum failed, which might be in part attributed to the influence of social media.
  • Like Brexit, and the recent US election, streams of misinformation polarized prospective voters.
  • Elvira’s position is to educate within the post-conflict setting.
  • She is currently working to identify the discontinuities between public opinion and the opinions prevalent in social media.
  • Building public forum as a means for productive dialogue and active change.
  • Above all, the forum(s) aim to better inform people so as to improve public decision-making.
  • Forums have not been used explicitly for peace building, though Elvira sees them as potential tool for conflict resolution.
  • The objective is to make people own their peace, and to play an active role in preserving it.
  • Very important: the forums are not ‘partisan’. President Santos believes that the forums should proceed unaccompanied by the government—as the government might obstruct or adulterate forum operation.
  • What does it look like to bring peace to Colombia?
  • Many people in the cities don’t realize the difference between peacetime and wartime.
  • Violence is concentrated in rural areas. This forces mass migration. In Colombia, roughly six and a half million have been displaced.
  • The force of migration to urban centers has been mitigated by the Colombian Government’s effort to accommodate, and in many cases, to assimilate displaced persons into cities.
  • Most people do not understand the history of violence in Colombia, and thus cannot appreciate the significance of peace operations and agreements.
  • The scale of violence has reduced dramatically: no kidnappings, fewer murders, etc.
  • We have seen successful integration of ex-guerilla members into the contemporary political system.
  • The objective of Elvira’s current project is to get people online.
  • The forum will take shape as a web-app, open to all, and accessible to all Spanish speakers, see Webapp Atrévete http://atrevete.co/rc/
  • The forum is anonymous.
  • Groups (pods) of five will be formed among those with opposing or controversial opinions.
  • These groups will then be launched into a chat.
  • Groups will be given material—usually a video—to discuss.
  • The best argument ought to prevail.
  • How to incentivize.
  • Intrinsic value in public discourse.
  • Finding the links between peacebuilding and whatever the public is most occupied with (e.g. tax reform).
  • Perhaps introduce awards for participation.
  • Pods talk for an hour with the hope of informing and depolarizing members.
  • Another key objective is to paint discussion as a valuable end in itself.
  • The forum will record and compile data. This data will then be used to qualify the progress of the forum over time


Elvira Maria Restrepo is a qualified member of the Colombian Bar, who is also certified for taking the New York Bar since 1991, with a Masters-in-Law from Harvard.  She holds a PhD in Politics from Oxford University.  Fluent in Spanish, English and French, her research and teaching interests cross the disciplinary boundaries of conflict studies, criminal justice, women, human rights and peace-building, with a focus on Latin America. From June 2016 to July 2017, she took a one year Public Service Leave as an advisor of President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, on peace building.  She is currently a Tenure-track Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Miami with a joint appointment with the International Studies Program.

For more information about Elvira, please see her full cv at: http://www.as.miami.edu/media/college-of-arts-and-sciences/content-assets/geography/cvs/Restrepo_16_CV.pdf

Contact Elvira

You can contact Elvira via her email e.restrepo@miami.edu.