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

Led The Pln To Victory

Arias finally made the decision to make his own run for the presidency of Costa Rica, and he relinquished his duties as PLN general secretary in 1984 in order to devote his attention to his own campaign. Characterizing himself as the "Peace" candidate, Arias's platform was "roofs, jobs, and peace." At the time Costa Rica was plagued with severe economic problems, and Central America was embroiled in violence and discord. Discord had fallen upon the region with the introduction of the pro-Marxist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, leading to civil war in Guatemala, internal unrest in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and increasing border tensions between Nicaragua and its neighboring states, Honduras and Costa Rica. The conflict was exacerbated by the ideological and military interference of Russia, which supported the Sandinista government, and the United States, which backed the Contra rebel movement that sought to overthrow it. These were difficult conditions in which to accomplish his third electoral promise, that of peace.

Arias campaigned against Rafael Angel Calderon Fournier, who represented the right-leaning Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC). Their platforms were similar, focusing on perpetuating the current foreign policy, which extolled official neutrality, friendship with the United States, and hostility toward Costa Rica's northern neighbor, Nicaragua. On the domestic front, both candidates focused on the economic crisis facing the country. Arias called for increasing wages by raising taxes on the middle and upper classes and by enhancing education, health, and housing services. He also promised to tackle Costa Rica's huge foreign debt without leaving its citizenry impoverished. The campaign came to a head when Calderon suggested that Costa Ricans should be sent to fight if Nicaragua invaded Honduras. Arias upheld his position as the "peace candidate," and denounced Calderon as a threat to the country's neutrality and stability, maintaining that Costa Rica should stay neutral in the Central American conflict.

Though Arias lacked the charisma of most successful politicians, his positions were convincing enough to lead the PLN to election victory, winning 52.3 percent of the votes. He took the office of president on May 8, 1986, remarking that the people had "chosen bread" over guns. Despite the mounting pressures for Costa Rica to become involved in the conflict, Arias set out to maintain neutrality and act as a broker of peace. In his inaugural address—quoted in Contemporary Heroes and Heroines—he said: "We will keep Costa Rica out of the armed conflicts of Central America and we will endeavor through diplomatic and political means to prevent Central American brothers from killing each other."

Arias's administration was grounded in the belief that minimal government intervention and bureaucracy leads to a prosperous economy. Under his leadership Costa Rica became the wealthiest country with the highest standard of living in the region. The gross national product increased by an average of five percent during his tenure as president and the unemployment rate of 3.4 percent was the lowest in the hemisphere. His accomplishments and accessibility—he was known to mingle in the streets without bodyguards, dine in public restaurants, and drive his own car—elevated him to the status of national hero. However, he was later criticized for leaving his country in a disastrous fiscal situation after his term of office was over. Incumbent president Rafael Angel Calderon claimed that Arias embarked on a spending spree during his last year in order to enhance the PLN's chances to win the coming election. With that purpose, he was accused of keeping inflation artificially low by avoiding necessary hikes in the rates of state-owned utilities, such as water, telephone and electricity. This resulted in a fiscal deficit that threatened to climb to seven percent of the gross national product.

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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