Arias Sánchez, Oscar (1940–)

views updated

Arias Sánchez, Oscar (1940–)

Oscar Arias Sánchez (b. 13 September 1940), president of Costa Rica (1986–1990, 2006–), awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for designing a plan for peace in Central America. Arias Sánchez's father was an early follower of José Figueres Ferrer and an active member of the National Liberation Party (PLN). His mother's family is part of the Costa Rican coffee elite that emerged during the nineteenth-century coffee boom. Arias Sánchez came to international prominence shortly after his inauguration in 1986 when he took bold initiatives to propel Central America into a peace process. His proposals for peace and stability in the region led to an agreement, signed in 1987, between Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Costa Rica.

The Arias plan, or Esquipulas II, established the framework for the pacification and democratization of Central America. It provided for the restoration of civil liberties, for amnesty for political prisoners, for free elections, and for genuine dialogue between governments and opposition forces. The plan contributed to the process that brought peace and free elections to Nicaragua and new hope for the eventual demilitarization of the region.

Even though Arias came to the international scene at a relatively young age, he had served a long apprenticeship in the highly competitive arena of Costa Rican party politics and in the rigorous intellectual environment of the University of Costa Rica (UCR). He received his law and economics degrees from the UCR, was awarded a master of arts degree in political science and economics from the London School of Economics (1967), and earned a doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Essex, England (1974). He joined the faculty of UCR in 1969 and served as a member of the ad hoc Commission of the National University (1972–1975). He was a director of the Costa Rican Technological Institute from 1974 to 1977.

Arias began his political career in the PLN and held high elected and appointed positions in the national government and in the party. He served as secretary to the president (1970–1972) during the last José Figueres Ferrer administration. From 1972 to 1977, he held a cabinet-level position as minister of national planning and economic policy. While serving as a member of the National Assembly (1978–1982), he also held other leadership positions. He was secretary of international affairs (1975–1979), and he was elected secretary general in 1979 on a reformist platform that brought a new generation of leaders to the fore. Arias ascended to the presidency chiefly by serving in positions of party leadership and in the administration of President Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez. He won the PLN primary and then defeated Rafael Angel Calderón Fournier in the general election.

Arias has received many awards and honorary degrees from universities in Europe, Central America, and the United States. Since his presidency he has lectured widely on the related questions of world peace and the environment, donating the proceeds from the lectures to the Arias Foundation, which was established to support research on these issues. He has also continued to be active in politics. When the Constitutional Court allowed for reelection, Arias ran for the presidency in 2006. Even though Arias retained considerable credibility from his previous work, leftist rivalry provided considerable competition in the balloting. A manual recount ultimately declared Arias the winner.

See alsoCalderón Fournier, Rafael Ángel; Costa Rica, National Liberation Party; Monge Álvarez, Luis Alberto.


Oscar Arias Sánchez, Grupos de presión en Costa Rica (1971), and ¿Quién gobierna en Costa Rica? (1976).

John Patrick Bell, "Political Power in Contemporary Costa Rica," in Journal of Inter-American Studies and World Affairs 20 (1978): 443-454.

Seth Rolbein, Nobel Costa Rica (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Cox, Vicki. Oscar Arias Sánchez: Bringing Peace to Central America. New York: Chelsea House, 2007.

Lehoucq, Fabrice Edouard. Instituciones democráticas y conflictos políticos en Costa Rica. Heredia, Costa Rica: EUNA, 1998.

                                          John Patrick Bell