On Tuesday morning, both Semanario Universidad and The New York Times reported that Óscar Arias Sánchez has been accused of sexual assault.
The accuser said Arias kissed, touched and penetrated her without her consent following a December 2014 meeting, according to Semanario Universidad. Arias, through his lawyer, said he “categorically denied” the reports.
Arias is among Central America’s most powerful political figures, not only for his terms as president in Costa Rica but also for his work promoting peace in the region.
He served as President of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990 and again from 2006 to 2010. He was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 “for a plan designed to put an end to the cruel civil wars that were devastating Central America,” according to the organization.
Arias was born into an upper-class family in Heredia and received a graduate degree in England.
Following his election in 1986 as a member of Costa Rica’s National Liberation Party, Arias became a recognized name internationally as he sought to reduce violence in the region. As the non-profit organization United For Human Rights explains:
In a series of meetings with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, President Arias Sánchez pressed to resolve the turmoil and end outside influence in Central America. He eventually gained approval of his peace plan, which called for each country to limit the size of their armies, assure freedom of the press, and hold free and open elections. The plan was successful and, with the signing of the accords, fighting in the region came to an end.
Arias was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 due to his principal role in stabilizing Central America.
In his Nobel Lecture, Arias said “evils” in Central America “are manifest, naked to the view of anyone who cares to see them,” but that Costa Rica was a beacon of a better future:
I am receiving this prize as one of 2.7 million Costa Ricans. My people draw their sacred liberty from the two oceans which bound us to the East and West. To the South and to the North, Costa Rica has almost always been bounded by dictators and dictatorships. We are an unarmed people, and we are fighting to remain free from hunger. To America we are a symbol of peace, and we hope to be a symbol of development. We intend to show that peace is both the prerequisite and the fruit of progress.
During his final address to the nation at the conclusion of his first term, Arias said he and Costa Rica had “stood up as a force for morality.”
With funds from the Nobel Peace Prize, Arias created the “Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress,” which remains “dedicated to promoting democracy, gender equality, disarmament and demilitarization.”
Following a four-year battle to eliminate Costa Rica’s ban on re-election, Arias successfully ran for president in 2006. He said in 2010 that his focus on social issues ranked among his top successes. His administration pointed to a reduction in extreme poverty and the introduction of a school dropout prevention program, Avancemos, as solid accomplishments.
However, Arias faces criminal charges for breach of duty stemming from a probe into whether he failed to uphold his presidential responsibilities by allowing a Canadian gold mine to operate in Costa Rica in 2008.
In 2016, Arias penned a letter to the country in The Tico Times explaining why he was not seeking a third presidential term.
“No one person is indispensable in a democracy,” he wrote. “What is indispensable is many people willing to work for this country we love so much.”
Though Arias did not seek a third term, he has remained active in Costa Rica through his foundation and as a supporter of human rights.
That included his backing of a nuclear disarmament plan that was presented at a conference in Austria in 2014, according to The New York Times. When Alexandra Arce von Herold met with Arias at his house to discuss the cause, he allegedly sexually assaulted her, according to The New York Times.
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