Óscar Arias Sánchez
Oscar Arias Sanchez was born on September 13, 1940, in Heredia, Costa Rica, a place known for its beautiful tropical forests, waterfalls and roaring rivers. His family was one of the nation’s richest and owned large coffee-growing plantations.
After studying at the Colegio Saint Francis in San Jose, Oscar went to the United States and studied medicine at Boston University. He returned to Costa Rica in 1969, and started teaching political science at the University of Costa Rica. Three years later, he entered politics. In 1986, he was elected president of Costa Rica for the first time.
The Arias Plan
When Arias Sanchez was just seven years old, Costa Rica made the historic decision to be the first country in the world to abolish its standing army. Thus, Oscar grew up in Central America's only country that did not rely on military might to ensure its security. The importance of disarmament has always been a major part of his political viewpoint.
From the day he took office as president, Oscar felt his mission was to create peace not just for Costa Rica, but throughout the region.
On his election day, the presidents of nine Latin American countries came together to hear Oscar's plea for democracy and liberty. It was a plan to remove Central America from the middle of the Cold War that was being waged between the world's two superpowers – the United States and USSR. In their struggle against each other, these two superpowers supported various governments and armies creating civil wars like the one that killed more than one hundred thousand people in Guatemala. The superpowers had also supported different sides in conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua. They had also increased border tensions between Nicaragua and its neighboring states, Honduras and Costa Rica.
What soon became known as "The Arias Plan" called on the leaders of Central America to limit the size of their armies, assure freedom of the press, and to hold free and open elections. Because of his tireless work for this plan, Oscar became known for defending personal freedoms and limiting the build-up of military power. He also made great efforts to battle poverty and improve education for the people of the region. His work as an international diplomat reached a high point in 1987 when all the Central American presidents signed the Procedure to Establish a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America.
A Man of the People
Oscar was a very accessible president, often mingling in the streets without bodyguards. Unlike most world leaders, President Arias often dined in public restaurants and drove his own car. Oscar felt safe in Costa Rica, a country whose stability was measured not by military power but by success in the areas of education, health care, and elections.
Oscar's charisma and loyalty to his people elevated him to the status of a national hero. He worked on their behalf, to improve their lives in every way. And the world recognized him for his courageous efforts in the Central American peace process in 1987, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
With the monetary award that comes with the Nobel Peace Prize, President Arias formed the Arias Foundation for Peace & Human Progress. The aim of the foundation is to promote peace, justice and equality in Central America – and serve as a model in these areas for the rest of the world. It has become one of the leading organizations in Central America.
True Human Security
The foundation has focused largely on disarmament and the end of the international arms trade, but it has also taken on many of the tougher social problems. It has taken up the cause of those most often victimized by the trafficking of drugs, arms and people – namely women and youth. While working with the foundation, President Arias has become actively involved with peace-promoting organizations around the world. Oscar Arias Sanchez strives to get the people of the world to understand that true security is not based on having a huge army but on providing people with education, jobs and health.
Currently the Arias Foundation is in the middle of revising and improving the Arias disarmament plan for Central America. It is collecting data on what has been accomplished, and looking to fill in any gaps that may have been overlooked in the original agreement. This is part of a larger effort by the foundation as it continues to work for peace and stability in Central America.
A few Years ago, the Costa Rican people “reinterpreted” their constitution in order to allow Oscar Arias Sanchez to run for president again. He won the election in January 2006 and in 2010 finished his second term as the President of Costa Rica.