Oscar Arias

President of Costa Rica, 1986–1990, 1987 Nobel Peace Laureate

9/23-25, 2002

Former President of Costa Rica and 1987 Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias holds international stature as a spokesperson for the Third 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 his award-winning Central American Peace Process to topics of current global debate.

Born in Heredia, Costa Rica, in 1940, Dr. Arias studied law and economics at the University of Costa Rica, where his honor thesis, Grupos de Presion en Costa Rica (Pressure Groups in Costa Rica), earned him the 1971 National Essay Prize. He received his doctoral degree in Political Science from the University of Essex, England, in 1974. After serving as Professor of Political Science at the University of Costa Rica, Dr. Arias was appointed Costa Rica's Minister of Planning and Economic Policy. He won a seat in Congress in 1978 and was elected secretary-general of the National Liberation Party (NLP) of Costa Rica in 1981. Subsequently, in 1986, Oscar Arias was elected President of Costa Rica, a position he served until 1990, during which time Costa Rica maintained its stronghold as the richest country in the region, with the healthiest economy and highest standard of living coupled with a strong social welfare program.

At the time Dr. Arias assumed the presidency there was great regional discord, including the 1979 fall of the Somoza dictatorship and the election of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, which had already been a source of contention in Central America. There was also the East-West ideological and military interference of the superpowers during the cold War years. Sadly, regional civil wars had already claimed more than one hundred thousand lives in Guatemala alone. The situation subsequently aggravated internal unrest both in El Salvador and Nicaragua, as well as border tensions between Nicaragua and its neighboring nations of Honduras and Costa Rica. It was this turmoil and instability that Dr. Oscar Arias helped to quell with his peace plan known as the Esquipulas Il Accords (Procedure to Establish a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America), which was signed by all the Central American presidents on August 7, 1987, and earned for him the Nobel Peace Prize.

As a philanthropist and humanitarian, Dr. Arias used the monetary award from the Nobel Peace prize to establish the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in 1988, under which three programs were established, (1) The Center for Human Progress to promote equal opportunities for women in all sectors of Central American society; (2) the Center for Organized Participation to foster change-oriented philanthropy in Latin America and (3) the Center for Peace and Reconciliation to work for demilitarization and conflict resolution in the developing world.

Dr. Arias has received honorary doctorates from universities throughout the world, including Harvard, Washington, Illinois, Princeton, Oviedo, and Southern Connecticut; the colleges of Dartmouth, Franklin and Marshall, Ithica, Quinnipiac, and Oberlin. He has also received countless prestigious awards, including the Jackson Ralston Prize, the Prince of Asturias Award, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, the Liberty Medal of Philadelphia, and the Americas Award.

He continues to participate actively in several international organizations, including the Boards of Directors of the International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD); Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (ECAAR); Inter-Action Council; the International Negotiation Network of the Carter Center; the Peres Center for Peace; International Crisis Group (ICG), and Transparency International. Dr. Arias also serves on the Commission on Global Governance and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), and he is currently a member of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans and of the 2000 International Olympic Committee (IOC 2000). He is also an active member of the Inter-American Dialogue, the Society for international Development, and the Create 21, Asahi Forum. A popular keynote speaker at international conferences, he is a prolific writer and author of several books.

By bringing human concerns to the forefront of the international agenda, Dr. Arias 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 face by all nations today and to initiate and era of peace and prosperity for all humankind.