Oscar (b. Sept. 13, 1941, Heredia, Costa Rica),
politician and official, president of Costa Rica (1986-90), who was awarded the
Nobel Prize for Peace in 1987 for his Central American peace plan.
Born into one of the wealthiest
coffee-growing families in Costa Rica, Arias
Sánchez studied economics at the University of Costa Rica and earned
a Ph.D. from the University of Essex in England. In the 1960s he began working
for the moderate socialist National Liberation Party (Partido de Liberación
Nacional; PLN), and in 1972 he was appointed minister of planning in the
government of President José Figueres, a post he held until 1977. He was
elected secretary-general of the PLN in 1979, and in 1986 he won the general
election to become president of Costa Rica.
As president, Arias Sánchez took measures to cope with Costa Rica's heavy
foreign indebtedness and other economic problems, but his main interest was in
trying to restore peace and political stability to the strife-torn countries of
Central America. While harshly critical of the Sandinista government in
neighbouring Nicaragua, he forbade that regime's guerrilla opponents (the "Contras")
from operating militarily on Costa Rican soil. In February 1987 he proposed a
regional peace plan for the Central American countries that would set a date for
ceasefires between government and rebel forces, ensure amnesty for political
prisoners, and schedule free and democratic elections in those countries. Arias and the leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and
Nicaragua signed this plan in August 1987. In October of that year Arias
was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his efforts to
achieve the beginnings of peace in the region.