Oscar Rafael de Jesus Arias Sanchez, Former President of Costa Rica
Born to an upper class family in the province of Heredia, Óscar Arias concluded his secondary schooling at the Colegio Saint Francis in the capital city of San José. He then enrolled in Boston University with the intention of studying medicine, but he soon returned to his home country and completed degrees in law and economics at the University of Costa Rica. In 1967, Arias traveled to the United Kingdom and enrolled in the London School of Economics. He received a doctorate degree in political science from the University of Essex in 1974. Arias has received over fifty honorary degrees, including doctorates from Harvard University, Princeton University, Dartmouth College, Oberlin College, Ithaca College and Washington University in St. Louis.
The first presidency
Arias joined the National Liberation Party (Partido Liberación Nacional, or PLN), Costa Rica’s main social democratic party. In 1986 he ran successfully for president on that party’s ticket. Arias’s presidency saw the transformation of Costa Rica’s economy from one based on the traditional cash crops (coffee and bananas) to one more focused on non-traditional agriculture (e.g., of exotic flowers and fruits) and tourism. Some within the PLN criticized his administration for abandoning the party’s social democrat teachings and promoting a neoliberal economic model.
Arias received the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his work towards the signing of the Esquipulas II Accords. This was a plan to promote democracy and peace on the Central American isthmus during a time of great turmoil and outside influence in the midst of the Cold War. Partly due to the collapse of the Soviet-led Communist bloc that had traditionally supported leftist governments and insurgencies in Central America, the signing of the accords was indeed followed by an end to most of the fighting in Central America.
Arias then called for a higher level of integration in the Central America region and promoted the creation of the Central American Parliament (Parlamento Centroamericano). During his current administration, Arias has declared that Costa Rica will not enter the Central American Parliament. Arias also modified the country’s educational system. The most notable action in this respect was the reintroduction of standardized academic tests at the end of primary and secondary school.
The second presidency
Arias’s second inauguration at the Estadio Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica, Monday, May 8, 2006.
After a controversial ruling by the Constitutional Court voided an amendment to the constitution that forbade presidential reelection, Arias announced in 2004 that he intended to run again for president in the February 2006 general elections. Though for years private polling companies and several news media published polls predicting Arias would win by a wide margin, the election was initially deemed too close to call. A month later, on 7 March, after a manual recount, the official results showed Arias beat center-left contender Ottón Solís by 18,169 votes (1.2% of valid votes cast). He took the oath of office at noon on 8 May 2006 at the National Stadium.