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Oscar Arias Sánchez: 1941—: Former Costa Rican President, Writer, Activist

Chose A Political Path

Oscar Arias Sánchez was born in the rural town of Heredia, Costa Rica, on September 13, 1941. His family was one of Costa Rica's richest coffee-growing clans, with heavy political ties. Both of his grandfathers were prominent legislators and his father, Juan Rafael Arias Trejos, was an unsuccessful candidate for vice president of Costa Rica in the 1970s. The oldest of three children, Arias suffered from asthma as a boy. His condition limited his participation in physical pursuits, so he spent much of his time reading, an interest that laid the groundwork for his future educational and political aspirations.

After attending the Escuela República Argentina in Heredia and Colegio Saint Francisa in Moravia, Arias went to the United States to study medicine at Boston University. Exposure to American politics, notably the charismatic performance of John F. Kennedy during his campaign against Richard Nixon, inspired Arias to leave his medical studies and return to Costa Rica to study law and economics. Arias attended the University of Costa Rica, where he became dedicated to national politics and engaged actively in the work of the moderate Partido de Liberación Nacional (PLN), one of Costa Rica's two major parties. José Figueres Ferrer, a former president who abolished the Costa Rican Army in 1948, became his political mentor and influenced his devotion to social equality and anti-militarism.

Arias gained enormous insight into the realities of politics while working for the ultimately unsuccessful presidential campaign of the PLN's Daniel Oduber, and he became determined to go abroad for a more international political perspective. After graduating from the University of Costa Rica in 1966, Arias won a British government grant to study in England, where he spent three years at the University of Essex and the London School of Economics. He would go on to earn a doctorate in political science from the University of Essex for his study of the socioeconomic origins of Costa Rican political leadership.

At a Glance . . .

Born on September 13, 1941, in Heredia, Costa Rica; son of Juan Rafael and Lilian (maiden name, Sánchez) Arias Trejos; married Margarita Peñón Góngora (a biochemist); children: Sylvia Eugenia, Oscar Felipe. Education: University of Costa Rica, Licenciatura en Ambas, 1967; University of Essex (England), PhD, political science, 1974; also attended Harvard University and Boston University, 1959-60, and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Career: University of Costa Rica, professor of political science, 1969-72; Republic of Costa Rica, member of economic council, 1970-72, minister of national planning and political economy, 1972-77, member of legislative assembly, 1978-81; campaigned for Costa Rican presidential candidate Luis Alberto Monge, 1981-82; presidential candidate, 1984-86; president of Costa Rica, 1986-90. Member of economic council of the president of Costa Rica, 1972-77; National Liberation Party, international secretary, 1975-79, general secretary, 1979-84.

Selected memberships: Officer or member of numerous professional, political and humanitarian organizations, including: Central Bank of Costa Rica, vice pres, bd of directors, 1970-72, dir, 1972-77; Technical Institute of Costa Rica, bd of dirs, 1974-77; North-South Roundtable, Rome, Italy, 1977; bd mem, International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD). Participated in the Commission on Global Governance and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Selected awards: Premio Nacional de Ensayo, for Grupos de Presion en Costa Rica, 1970; Nobel Peace Prize, 1987; Martin Luther King Peace Award, 1987; Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, 1988; Americas Award, 1990; Co-recipient, Liberty Medal of Philadelphia, 1991. Has received approximately 50 honorary doctorates from colleges and universities.

Arias returned to Costa Rica in 1969 and joined the University of Costa Rica's faculty as a professor of political science, while continuing his work with the PLN. He embarked on a political career in 1970 as an assistant to Figueres. Shortly after Figueres was reelected in 1972, Arias was appointed Minister of National Planning and Political Economy. He distinguished himself in his new position and became known for legislation making the government more accessible and responsive to the common people. He held this post until 1977—time enough to implement successful economic and technological development programs, which earned him enough recognition to be elected to the national assembly the following year, and then general secretary of the PLN in 1981. Arias resigned from his national assembly position that same year to campaign for PLN presidential candidate Luis Alberto Monge, who was elected in 1982.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyOscar Arias Sánchez: 1941—: Former Costa Rican President, Writer, Activist Biography - Chose A Political Path, Led The Pln To Victory, Sought Peace For Central America, Founded An Organization For Peace