Speaker > Biography
Oscar Arias Sanchez
President of Costa Rica and 1987 Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias holds international stature as a spokesperson for the developing world. Championing such issues as human development, democracy, and demilitarization, he has traveled the globe spreading a message of peace and applying the lessons garnered from the Central American Peace Process to topics of current global debate. The New York Times reported that Oscar Arias’s “...positions on Central American issues have become the standards by which many people in Congress and elsewhere have come to judge United States policy.” In a similar way, he has come to take a leading position in international fora and discourse.
Dr. Arias was born in San José, Costa Rica in 1940. He studied Law and Economics at the University of Costa Rica. His thesis, Grupos de presión en Costa Rica (Pressure Groups in Costa Rica) earned him the 1971 National Essay Prize. In 1974, he received a doctoral degree in Political Science at the University of Essex, England. After serving as Professor of Political Science at the University of Costa Rica, Dr. Arias was appointed Costa Rican Minister of Planning and Economic Policy. He won a seat in Congress in 1978 and was elected secretary-general of the National Liberation Party in 1981. In 1986, Oscar Arias was elected president of Costa Rica.
Dr. Arias assumed office at a time of great regional discord. The fall of the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and the introduction of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua had already been a source of contention in Central America. The ideological and military interference of the superpowers, still entrenched in the Cold War, threatened to broaden this conflict in both scope and definition. Such intervention heightened the state of civil war that had by then claimed more than one hundred thousand lives in Guatemala. It aggravated internal unrest in El Salvador and Nicaragua, as well as border tensions between Nicaragua and its neighboring states: Honduras and Costa Rica. Despite the previous presidential administration’s decision not to become embroiled in the growing conflict, Costa Rica’s involvement seemed almost unavoidable. In the face of these threats, Dr. Arias intensified his efforts to promote peace.
Even before assuming the presidency, Dr. Arias traveled throughout Central and South America to personally invite the Latin American heads of state to visit Costa Rica for his presidential inauguration. On the day he took office, the presidents of nine Latin American countries met in San José. In this meeting Dr. Arias called for a continental alliance for the defense of democracy and liberty. He affirmed the principles that all Central Americans were entitled to the same liberties and social and economic guarantees of democracy, that each nation had the right to select, through free and fair elections, the type of government that could best meet the needs and interests of its people, and that neither armies nor totalitarian regimes were entitled to make this decision. At that moment Costa Rica, led by Oscar Arias, assumed an active role in the search for democracy and peace for the countries of the region.
In 1987, President Arias drafted a peace plan to end the regional crisis. Widely recognized as the Arias Peace Plan, his initiative culminated in the signing of the Esquipulas II Accords or the Procedure to Establish a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America by five Central American presidents on August 7, 1987. In that same year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1988, Dr. Arias used the monetary proceeds from the prize to establish the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress. Under the auspices of the Foundation, three programs were established: The Center for Human Progress to promote equal opportunities for women in all sectors of Central American society; the Center for Organized Participation to foster change-oriented philanthropy in Latin America; and the Center for Peace and Reconciliation to work for demilitarization and conflict resolution in the developing world. From these same headquarters, Dr. Arias has continued his pursuit of global peace and human security.
Dr. Arias has received approximately fifty honorary doctorates from colleges and universities such as Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Oberlin, Marquette, and Washington University in St. Louis. He has also received numerous prizes, among them the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Award, the Liberty Medal of Philadelphia, the Jackson Ralston Prize, the Prince of Asturias Award, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, and the Americas Award.
Oscar Arias has actively participated in several international organizations. He has served on the Board of Directors of the International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD), Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (ECAAR), the InterAction Council, the International Negotiation Network of the Carter Center, the Peres Center for Peace, International Crisis Group (ICG) and Transparency International. In addition, he has been part of the Commission on Global Governance and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the Inter-American Dialogue, the Society for International Development, and the Create 21, Asahi Forum.
While Oscar Arias is best known for his international efforts, he is also lauded for his capable management of the Costa Rican economy during his presidential term. Dr. Arias believed in minimal government intervention and bureaucracy as a means to a prosperous economy. Under his leadership, Costa Rica’s economy thrived and served as a model for neighboring countries. During his term of office, Costa Rica maintained its stronghold as the richest country in the region, with the healthiest economy and highest standard of living. The gross national product increased by an average of 5% per year during his term in office, and the unemployment rate was reduced to 3.4%, the lowest in the hemisphere. This superior economic growth was balanced by a strong social welfare program which included, among other projects, an initiative to provide housing to the poor.
Dr. Arias was a visible president, frequently venturing out in public on his own to listen to the concerns of the citizenry. Since the conclusion of his term in office in 1990, he has continued to be “a man of the people” promoting such innovative ideas as human security, global governance, and human development. By bringing “human” concerns to the forefront of the international agenda, he provides a link between the impoverished South and the developed North, between the more politically stable West and the conflict-ridden East. To the people of the industrialized countries, he carries a sincere message of solidarity and partnership, to counter the growing threats faced by all nations today and to initiate an era of peace and prosperity for all humankind.
In February of 2006 the people of Costa Rica elected Oscar Arias to a second term as president. He took office on the 8th of May, 2006 and will serve until 2010. The fight against poverty, the reduction of crime, the expansion of the education system, and the promotion of investment in research and infrastructure are at the top of his domestic agenda. Internationally, he continues to advocate for a comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty, free trade, and the “Costa Rica Consensus” to establish new criteria for debt relief based on social investment and demilitarization.