The Odyssey



 
 
 
 
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Oscar Arias Sanchez
 
 
Adelante, Nicaragua!
When Dr. Oscar Arias was elected president of Costa Rica in 1986, Central America was torn by conflict. There was fighting everywhere - in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and there were border arguments between Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica. The US role in Central America made matters worse. President Reagan suspended aid to Nicaragua, funded a revolutionary group with a dictatorial history known as the Contras, and imposed a trade embargo for five years that began in 1985. Nicaragua was being economically strangled! In the face of a deteriorating situation, Arias advocated peace. "For free men everything is possible. The challenges confronting us can be overcome by an America which is democratic and free..."
 
Standing Up for What You Believe In
The Arias Peace Plan
The Long Road to Peace
Standing Up for What You Believe In

Arias wasn't the first person to call for peace.  In January 1983, the Contadora group - Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela - began the effort to achieve a peace agreement for Central America.
Arias believes in democratic ideals, with freedom and equality for all. Many countries throughout the world claim to support these values, but, Arias is unique in that he is anti-military as well. He doesn't believe in using armed forces to bring about change. He doesn't even believe in having a military. Why would he have such a crazy notion? When Arias was only seven, the President of Costa Rica, Jose Figueres Ferrer abolished the army, originally in the interest of helping himself stay in power and end a bloody civil war. As a result, Costa Rica became a safe haven sandwiched between war-torn nations, free from the excesses and political ambitions of the military, and free to use its resources for other causes such as education.

Imagine how you would feel if your neighbors were battling and you didn't have a weapon to protect yourself. Would you hide? Arias did just the opposite. He stood up and shouted out loudly for peace. You might ask, why would he get involved? Costa Rica was doing fine economically, politically, and socially. However, Arias didn't see Costa Rica as a single entity. He saw his people as Central Americans, and as a Central American, he felt the necessity to help his fellow Central Americans. He wanted to work for the peace and prosperity of the region, not just for his country.

How many countries can you think of that don't have armies?  Costa Rica, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden...
As President of Costa Rica, Arias' beliefs clashed with U.S. foreign policy and Cold War ideology. Can you envision this lone man in a tiny country in the middle of Central America standing up against the entire Cold War? Well, that's exactly what he did. Arias refused to support U.S. military efforts in Nicaragua. He ended Costa Rica's support of the U.S.-backed Contras and expelled the U.S. ambassador and a CIA station chief because they supplied weapons, information, and funds to the Contras from secret Costa Rican bases.

"There are profound differences between what Washington thinks and what Costa Rica thinks. We both believe that a durable peace in Central America is possible only if there is democracy. But how to achieve that democracy is where we part company. I feel that it is not through any military pressure that the Contras might be able to exercise."  
 
 
 

The Arias Peace Plan

What do you think Arias was doing when he found out he won the Nobel Peace Prize?  He was relaxing on the beach with his wife and two kids!
Arias lobbied for democracy in another way as an advocate for peaceful resolution. In 1987, he drafted a peace plan to deal specifically with Nicaragua, but he hoped all the countries in the region would work to end the regional crisis. It wasn't easy to draft such a plan. Many defeatists said it would never work. Arias disregarded the naysayers and he assembled the presidents of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Once he got them together, he wouldn't let them leave the negotiating room until they reached an accord! It worked. On August 7, the presidents signed the final peace agreement.

The agreement is widely known as the Arias Peace Plan, but the official name is the Esquipulas II Accords, or the Procedure to Establish a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America. The agreement called for:

  1. An end to outside aid for guerrillas,
  2. A cease-fire,
  3. More peace talks,
  4. And a ban on the use of one country as a base for attacks on another.
Had it not been for Arias' idealistic vision and Costa Rica's neutrality, Central America might have experienced even greater bloodshed and destruction during the Cold War.

"We seek peace and democracy together, indivisible: an end to the shedding of human blood..."

The U.S. is responsible for 45% of all weapons deliveries in the world. From 1993-1997, 85% of U.S. arms sales went to undemocratic governments in the developing world.
The Nobel Prize committee was so excited about the peace plan that they awarded Arias the Nobel Prize. Other people weren't so happy. President Reagen was seeking an additional $270 million from Congress to support the Contras. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega refused to talk directly with rebel leaders. Arias had to urge him to accept an offer from Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo to mediate talks between the government and the rebels. Arias worked to overcome the many obstacles to the plan.

"Of course, they did not give the Nobel Prize to Costa Rica or to me because the process is complete or because we have already reached peace, but we are at the half-way point...."  
 
 
 

The Long Road to Peace

What was the Cold War?
It was a prolonged series of global, ideological, and political
confrontations between East and West from the end of World War II to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Costa Rica: An Oasis of Peace
Arias' efforts gave people hope that a lasting resolution could be reached. Talks began and the peace process started. The U.S. Congress passed bills to end contra funding, and Violeta Chamorro, leader of an opposition political party called UNO and the widow of a murdered newspaper editor, Pedro Chamorro, was elected president of Nicaragua. Nicaragua's problems weren't solved that quickly. Economic problems threatened the country, the US considered withholding aid, and a scandal called Irangate in the U.S. revealed the United States' secret support for the Contras. The road to the end of the civil war has been a long one, but as another democratic election in Nicaragua followed in which a new candidate from a different political party successfully took power, it was recognized that the war finally ended. Has Central America found peace?

Peace is a process which never ends; it is the result of innumerable decisions made by many persons in many lands. It is an attitude, a way of life, a way of solving problems and of resolving conflicts. It cannot be forced on the smallest nation, nor can it be imposed by the largest. It can neither ignore our differences nor overlook our common interests. It requires us to work and live together."  
 
 
 

 
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