The Odyssey



 
 

 
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Oscar Arias Sanchez
 
 
Picture of Oscar
"I believe that everyone can do something to better the quality of their brothers and sisters throughout the planet."


Dr. Oscar Arias Sanchez, president of Costa Rica from 1986-1990, is best known throughout the world as the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. The award recognized his tremendous efforts to bring peace to Central America at a time when Costa Rica's neighbors were involved in civil wars. Oscar has proven to be not only a role model to the citizens of his country but to people everywhere. He is a dedicated and charismatic leader who has never compromised his ideals.  
 
Personal Background
His Political Career Begins
Oscar as President
Success and Recognition
His Work Continues
Recommended Links
Personal Background

"I believe that feelings of frustration, of loss of hope are normal. But I also continue to believe that one person can make a difference."

Rigoberta and Oscar
Oscar was born in 1941 in the town of Heredia to one of Costa Rica's richest coffee-growing families. When Oscar was just seven years old, Costa Rica made the historic decision 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.

After studying at the Colegio Saint Francis in San Jose, Oscar went to the United States and studied medicine at Boston University. Inspired by the political debates of the times, Oscar returned to Costa Rica to study law and economics. Oscar must have done extremely well in his studies because he was awarded a fellowship to study at two prestigious universities in London. His hard work and passion for his studies earned him a thesis prize, master's degree, and a Ph.D.  
 
 

His Political Career Begins

"It is necessary to have values, to have principle, to have ideals and to want to fight for them."

Returning to Costa Rica in 1969, Oscar remained in academics, teaching political science at the University of Costa Rica. Three years later, he entered politics when President Jose Figueres Ferrer appointed him minister of national planning and political economy. He was elected International Secretary in 1975 and in 1978 his hometown elected him as their representative in the national legislative assembly. He withdrew in 1981 to work for the presidential campaign of future president Luis Alberto Monge. That same year he was elected General Secretary of the National Liberation Party and four years later the self-nominated Oscar was elected President of Costa Rica.  
 
 
Oscar as President - "The Arias Plan"

"We need to understand that the security of a state does not necessarily come from the military. The true security of the state comes from the quality of life of the people."

Can You Name?
The day he took office was not a day of celebration and partying. Oscar wasted no time in making sure the other leaders in the region understood his mission to restore peace. On his election day, the presidents of nine Latin American countries came together to hear Oscar' plea for democracy and liberty. He revealed his plan to remove Central America from the middle of the Cold War being waged between the world's two super powers. Despite previous presidents' struggles to keep Costa Rica out of the conflict that was in part responsible for civil wars in countries like Nicaragua and El Salvador, Oscar reverted to the typical Costa Rican problem solving technique of talking things over.

What soon became known as "The Arias Plan" called on leaders to limit the size of their armies, assure freedom of the press, and hold free and open elections. As the leader of a politically neutral country, nestled in a region turned upside down by political conflict, Oscar came to represent a dedication to ensuring personal freedoms, limiting the build-up of military supplies and power, battling poverty, and improving education.  
 
 

Success and Recognition

"Peace is not a matter of prizes or of trophies. It is not the product of a victory, nor of a command. It has no borders, no time limits, nothing fixed in the definition of its achievements." (From his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech.)

His efforts as an international diplomat culminated with the signing of the Esquipulas II Accords, or the Procedure to Establish a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America, by all the Central American presidents on August 7, 1987. While known around the world for his international feats, Oscar was quite successful in Costa Rica as well. He achieved great things for Costa Rica and 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.

No doubt, Oscar's charisma and loyalty to his people elevated him to the status of a national hero. It was on this base of national support that Oscar stood when the rest of the world recognized him for his courageous efforts in the Central American peace process. On December 7, 1987, Oscar was presented with the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. You can read his acceptance speech, entitled "Peace Has no Finishing Line."

He went on to receive honorary degrees from universities such as Harvard, Washington, Illinois, and Dartmouth. Other prizes include the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace award, the Americas Award, and the Liberty Medal of Philadelphia. People around the world have been recognizing his bravery and dedication to the idea that negotiation, not war, is the only way to resolve conflict.  
 
 

His Work Continues. . .

"I believe that there is great satisfaction in life that whoever wants to can help make life better for the rest of the world. I believe that everyone can do something to better the living quality of their brothers and sisters throughout the planet."

It Takes Charisma!
Being showered with fame and praise did not slow down his efforts to promote peace. If anything, it encouraged him to expand his attention from the recovering region of Central America to the entire world. He is actively involved with peace-promoting organizations around the world. He formed the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress. Its goals include the demilitarization of places like Panama and Haiti and the creation of a global de-militarization fund. He strives to get the people of the world to understand security as something not based on having a huge army but on education, jobs, and health.

In 1995, Oscar was asked in an interview, "If you had one thing that you could say to all the young people of the world, what would it be?"

This is his inspiring answer:

"I think the most important thing for the 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 affect us, too."
 
 
Recommended Links

Oscar Arias Sanchez
Profiles the influential Costa Rican former president and highlights his achievements as a peacemaker in Latin America. Includes general links.

Costa Rica Super Site - Oscar Arias
Check out Oscar's thoughts on peace and justice in Latin America.

Nobel Prize Laureate Urges Curb of Global Arms Trade
Recounts Oscar's speech at a forum about the US's policy on the Latin American arms trade.

President Oscar Arias
Learn about Oscar's grand vision, personal style, and political objectives by reading an interview with him. Use RealAudio to listen to the "Rising Tide of Peace" speech and learn about the programs of the Arias Foundation.


 
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