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Oscar Arias Sanchez

"A tractor is much more useful than a tank."

This is one of Oscar Arias Sánchez's favorite slogans for peace. It symbolizes the history of his country, Costa Rica, and his hope for the future of all countries. For many people, the words "Costa Rica" (meaning "Rich Coast" in Spanish) inspire images of beautiful beaches, coral reefs and awesome volcanoes. This second smallest country in Central America has also gained fame as the country without an army and the country with an ex-President who is also a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

As President of Costa Rica from 1986-1990, Dr. Arias captured the world's eye when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his remarkable efforts in a tumultuous Central America. For over a century, Costa Rica has maintained a system where education, health care, and now, environmental conservation are priorities. School has been free and mandatory since 1869 and today the literacy rate is an astounding 93%! For the past 50 years, since Dr. Arias was just a baby, Costa Rica has been the one shining democracy in Central America. Surrounded by death squads, guerrilla movements and military dictatorships in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, the Costa Rican government abolished its army in 1949. Talk about contrasts! How was Costa Rica able to maintain its stability amidst chaos? What was Dr. Arias' role in establishing lasting peace?

Prelude to President Arias
The Power of Peace
Dr. Arias' Gift to Costa Rica
A Prelude to President Arias

What is the secret to Costa Rica's success? Many people look to the abolition of armed forces in 1949 as the obvious answer to how this country has established long-lasting peace and democracy. However, the answer encompasses the entire re-structuring of the Costa Rican government in 1949 after a short but bloody civil war. The country adopted a decentralized governmental power structure similar to that of the United States. There is a system of checks and balances so that any one person or group is not able to acquire too much control. This order was established within the Constitution of 1949, which also gave women and blacks the right to vote. The founding father of the 1949 democratic republic and Costa Rica's political grandfather is former President José Figueres Ferrer. He paved the way for Oscar Arias to continue the pattern of peace and to spread his ideald to the rest of Central America.  

The Power of Peace

"I believe that everyone can do something to better the living quality of their brothers and sisters throughout the planet. Because each day the world we are living in becomes more and more interdependent. It is becoming a common village, a global neighborhood."
-Oscar Arias

When Arias became President of Costa Rica in 1986, the nation's policy of neutrality in Central America gained clarity. He launched "The Arias Plan," a peace plan for Central America which eventually led to democratic elections in Nicaragua, the departure of the rebellious Contras from Honduras and Costa Rica, and negotiations between the government and the guerrilla (revolutionary) forces in El Salvador and Guatemala. For more on the action in Guatemala, check out the Odyssey team dispatch: Torture and Bloodshed: Truths of the Guatemalan Civil War

If you were to speak to a Costa Rican citizen today, they would probably say that every problem can be solved by "talking it over", because this is the way it has been in Costa Rica for a very long time. The people of Costa Rica are proud of their fifty year hsitory of rejecting violence. No matter how rich or poor they are, the people of this republic treasure democracy and this belief has helped Costa Rica maintain its peace and stability when external conflicts have threatened them.  
Dr. Arias' Gift to Costa Rica

The King of Norway presented the Nobel Peace Prize to Oscar Arias on December 10, 1987. In addition to the honor of this prestigious award, he was awarded $340,000, which he used to establish the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress. In his words, this is a "foundation for Costa Rica's neediest citizens," and it also strives to build just and peaceful societies in all of Central America. You can visit the foundation's website in Spanish at:

Arias' foundation includes the Center for Human Progress, the Center for Peace and Reconciliation and the Center for Organized Participation. Today, Arias continues to seek political, rather than military, solutions to unrest. He is a member of the International Negotiation Network, a group of former heads of state and other dignitaries, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This group offers their services as global peacemakers. Arias' enthusiastic work for peace has provided Costa Rica and the rest of Central America with great hope for the future. What can you do to live up to Dr. Arias' brave example? Listen to his words:

"I think the most important thing for future generations is to understand that it is necessary to have ideals, to dream, to live a life of principles. It is necessary to understand that the brotherhood is more important than the self. It is necessary to comprehend that the problems of a neighbor in some way affects us, too."  

Costa Rica
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