SOMERVILLE, Massachusetts – A graduating senior at Tufts University is looking forward to a long-awaited return home to the western San José suburb of Escazú, where a hero’s welcome awaits the prodigal son of a Chiquita lawyer and a San José doctor.
Mauricio Artiñano, 22, has had an impressive four-year run at the Boston-area university, compiling a 3.92 overall GPA and a community service record that stretches back to freshman year. He was also named recently to USA Today’s “2005 College Academic All-Stars First Team,” a distinction that generated a fair amount of buzz here in Massachusetts and earned him a nod earlier this year as the daily La Nación’s “person of the day.”
“The day it came out in La Nación,” Artiñano said, “I might have received like 60, 70 e-mails. A lot of phone calls. My parents were answering phone calls all day.”
Artiñano’s biggest moment of the last four years, however, came earlier this year, when he traveled to Toledo, Spain, to participate in an international conference he himself had organized. Entitled “Lessons Learned on Regional Peace-Building: The Experience of the Central American Peace Process,” the conference brought together a host of prominent figures who, during the late 1980s and ’90s, had played hands-on roles in bringing an end to Central America’s many armed conflicts.
The idea behind the conference – something Artiñano came up with several years ago and has been working on ever since –was to draw from the ultimately successful Central American peace process lessons that might be applied to some of the world’s contemporary conflicts.
“The peace process of the ’80s and early ’90s was largely forgotten by the international community, even though, or perhaps because, it was so successful,” he said. “We talked about the possibility of doing some kind of project to get people to think about what message Central America could give the rest of the world.”
To turn that idea into a reality, Artiñano made two separate trips to Central America, where he contacted potential participants – ex-Presidents and former guerilla and army leaders – and faced the daunting task of convincing them to share in his vision. It seems an incredibly bold project for anyone to undergo, let alone a young college student. Artiñano, however, insists it wasn’t a question of confidence, but rather an attitude of “What have I got to lose?”
“I had this idea that I really believed in, and I think that was a big factor – the fact that I was wholly convinced of the potential it had,” he said. All that preparation and hard work finally paid off the first weekend of March. During the gathering, according to Artiñano, one theme in particular continued to surface again and again.
“The main lesson,” the Tufts senior explained, “was the importance of the fact that it was a regional initiative. The Presidents of the five countries (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica) came together without much support from the United States or the United Nations.
A few Latin American and European countries encouraged them, but it was really an endogenous regional effort. That made a big difference because it meant there really wasn’t that much intervention from foreign countries, which sometimes makes things more difficult. And the fact that it was a regional initiative made people in the region feel ownership over the peace accords.”
That idea, said Artiñano, seemed to resonate also with many of the conference’s non-Central American guests: representatives from countries such as Colombia, Sri Lanka and the Middle East.
And it was interesting to note, he added, how many of the conference participants, once bitter enemies, have put aside their differences and now agree on the value of centrist positions and consensus building. These are lessons, Artiñano said, that are not only valuable for the rest of the world but also for Central America itself.
Following his upcoming graduation, the overachieving academic all-star will have an opportunity to continue his work back in Costa Rica, where he’s been hired on by one of the organizations through which he organized the Toledo summit. After four years of hard work – and cold Somerville winters – Artiñano’s looking forward to returning home.
“Ideally what I would love to do is work on things related to Central America or international affairs, but in Costa Rica,” he said. “I really miss it. After having four wonderful years here – because I really enjoyed it here – I still think my place is back home with my family, whom I miss a lot. And my friends, and the weather.”