San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Oscar Arias praised for role in peace deal

From the print edition

It is fair to say that none of the 350 young students at San José’s National Theater on Wednesday have any recollection of the conflicts that ravaged the Central American region a quarter century ago.

“There is something intangible in the pain of war,” said Oscar Arias, former president and architect of the peace negotiations that ended regional wars in the 1980s. “To be unaware of the taste of gunpowder, the color of death and the cries coming from behind your neighbor’s wall is a privilege.” 

Arias, who served two terms as the nation’s president from 1986-1990 and 2006-2010, helped bring peace to five Central American nations with the signing of the Esquipulas II Peace Agreement in the Guatemalan city of the same name in 1987. On Wednesday night, more than 400 guests, including students, dignitaries and lawmakers, attended a celebration marking the accords’ 25th anniversary.

The agreements facilitated the end of civil wars taking place in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, which claimed more than 250,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million people. The wars also forced more than 250,000 refugees to flee into Costa Rica during those bloody decades.

Peace Deal 2

25 years later, former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias commemorated the accords in a ceremony on Wednesday at San José’s National Theater. Also pictured are President Laura Chinchilla, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo.

Alberto Font

During a long negotiation process, Arias condensed a 200-page document into less than three pages that detailed in simple terms what the region’s leaders had agreed to.

“His main message was that every person should carry a book instead of a rifle,” said Arturo Cruz, Nicaragua’s former ambassador to the United States.

Other speakers in attendance included President Laura Chinchilla, who thanked Arias for his role in the peace process, and spoke about the accomplishments the countries have achieved as a region, and the work that remains ahead.

“We should commend ourselves for the fact that half of Central Americans today have been born into a peaceful period that began in 1987,” Chinchilla said.

Arias admitted that in order to reach an agreement, the leaders involved had to give up some of their aspirations, such as a dream to see Central America become the first demilitarized region in the world.

“It was important that we limited our ambition and gave up on perfectionism,” said Arias, who received the Nobel Peace Prize that year for his role in fostering peace. “If each of us had held on to our positions, we would not be here tonight.” 

Among the details of the agreement were the guarantee of free elections and the disarming of rebels groups in the region.

Arias said that despite U.S. pressure at the time, Nicaragua participated in the negotiations from the beginning.

“It is not possible to conduct a successful negotiation if the legitimate interlocutors of a conflict are not present,” he said.

During the event, a journalist, historian and former ambassador participated in a round-table debate where Arias was praised for his efforts.

“There was a constant loss of lives during that period,” former U.S. diplomat Amber Moss said. “It is essential to remember. We have to do it. If we forget our past we cannot guide ourselves towards the future.”

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