Oscar Arias

(b. 1941)

Quick Reference

(b. 13 Sept. 1941).

President of Costa Rica 1986–90, 2006–  A student of law in San José, he studied politics in London and Essex, where he obtained a doctorate. After returning to San José to teach political science, he was Minister of Planning 1972–7. In 1979 he was elected president of the social democrat Partido de Liberación Nacional (PLN, Party of National Liberation).

In 1987, Arias distinguished himself as the author of the Arias Peace Plan, officially known as Esquipulas II, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year. It followed decades of tension between and within the Central American states, fuelled by the Cold War as the US and the Soviet Union jostled for influence in each of the countries. The Plan was based on the premise that regional peace could only be established without interference from the superpowers. Free elections and other measures to stabilize democratic government in Central America were to be guaranteed collectively by the participating states. Despite the Costa Rican belief in the importance of a regional solution, there can be no doubt that the Plan could only work because the improved relations between the USA and the USSR under Gorbachev reduced the superpowers' interest in the region.

The success of the Arias Peace Plan was facilitated by the defeat in the 1990 general elections of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, who had been the central cause of US involvement in the region. Peace was restored to Nicaragua in the following years (1990–4), and to El Salvador in 1992. Arias was re-elected after the Constitutional Court ruled that presidents could be re-elected for a second period in office. He promised to revive the economy, and ratify a controversial Free Trade agreement with the USA.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

Reference entries