Borah Symposium 2011

President Oscar Arias - Symposium 2011

Keynote Address - Tuesday, October 11 

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ABOUT OSCAR ARIAS

Former President of Costa Rica and 1987 Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias holds international stature as a spokesperson for the developing world. Championing such issues as human development, democracy, and demilitarization, he has traveled the globe spreading a message of peace and applying the lessons garnered from the Central American Peace Process to topics of current global debate. The New York Times reported that Arias' "...positions on Central American issues have become the standards by which many people in Congress and elsewhere have come to judge United States policy." In a similar way, he has come to take a leading position in international forum and discourse.

Arias was born in Heredia, Costa Rica in 1940. He studied law and economics at the University of Costa Rica. His thesis, "Grupos de Presión en Costa Rica" ("Pressure Groups in Costa Rica"), earned him the 1971 National Essay Prize. In 1974, he received a doctoral degree in political science at the University of Essex, England. After serving as Professor of Political Science at the University of Costa Rica, Dr. Arias was appointed Costa Rican Minister of Planning and Economic Policy. He won a seat in Congress in 1978 and was elected secretary-general of the National Liberation Party in 1981. In 1986, he was elected President of Costa Rica.

Arias assumed office at a time of great regional discord. In the face of these threats, he intensified his efforts to promote peace. Even before assuming the presidency, Arias traveled throughout Central and South America to personally invite the Latin American heads of state to visit Costa Rica for his presidential inauguration. On the day he took office, the presidents of nine Latin American countries met in San José. In this meeting he called for a continental alliance for the defense of democracy and liberty. At that moment, Costa Rica, led by Arias, assumed an active role in the search for democracy and peace for the countries of the region.

In 1987, President Arias drafted a peace plan to end the regional crisis. Widely recognized as the Arias Peace Plan, his initiative culminated in 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. In that same year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1988, Arias used the monetary award from the Nobel Peace Prize to establish the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress. Under the auspices of the Foundation, three programs were established: the Center for Human Progress to promote equal opportunities for women in all sectors of Central American society; the Center for Organized Participation to foster change-oriented philanthropy in Latin America; and the Center for Peace and Reconciliation to work for demilitarization and conflict resolution in the developing world. From these same headquarters, Arias has continued his pursuit of global peace and human security.

Arias has received approximately 50 honorary doctorates from colleges and universities including Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Oberlin, Marquette, and Washington University in St. Louis. He has also received numerous prizes, among them the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Award; the Liberty Medal of Philadelphia; the Jackson Ralston Prize; the Prince of Asturias Award; the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award; and the Americas Award.

Arias participates actively in several international organizations. He serves on the Board of Directors of the International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD) and Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (ECAAR). Dr. Arias also serves on the Board of the InterAction Council, the International Negotiation Network of the Carter Center, the Peres Center for Peace, International Crisis Group (ICG), and Transparency International. In addition, he has been part of the Commission on Global Governance and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), and is currently a member of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans and of the International Olympic Committee 2000 (IOC 2000). He is also an active member of the Inter-American Dialogue, the Society for International Development, and the Create 21, Asahi Forum.

While he is best known for his international efforts, he is also lauded for his capable management of the Costa Rican economy during his first presidential term. He believed in minimal government intervention and bureaucracy as a means to a prosperous economy. Under his leadership, Costa Rica's economy thrived and served as a model for neighboring countries. This superior economic growth was balanced by a strong social welfare program which included, among other projects, an initiative to provide housing to the poor.

Arias was a visible president, frequently venturing out in public on his own to listen to the concerns of the citizenry. After the conclusion of his first term in office in 1990, he continued to be "a man of the people," promoting such innovative ideas as human security, global governance, and human development.

In 2006, Arias was again recruited to run for the presidency of Costa Rica. He won a narrow victory, becoming President of Costa Rica for the second time. His second tenure as President saw him pushing for world-wide disarmament; switching friendship with Taiwan for China; pushing through a regional free trade deal; attempting to help restore order in nearby Honduras; and promoting global improvement on environment issues. Arias stepped down as President in 2010.