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Oscar Arias Sanchez: Nobel Prize winner

Oscar Arias Sanchez, a man described as quiet but persistent, gambled his political career on the quest for peace in Central America and came out a double winner -- president of Costa Rica and Tuesday's recipient of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize.

Born Sept. 13, 1941 in Heredia, Costa Rica to a wealthy coffee-growing family, Arias was well prepared to become his small country's youngest leader and to assume the role of regional peace-maker.

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He was a pre-med student at Harvard University, received his law degree from the University of Costa Rica, then picked up one doctoral degree from the London School of Economics and another in political science from the University of Sussex, England.

Still Arias, who compares himself to the late President John F. Kennedy, was considered an upstart in his National Liberation Party. He surprised many by winning the presidency Feb. 2, 1986 to take control of Costa Rica, a nation half the size of Ohio wedged between Nicaragua and Panama.

'He was running behind in the polls and that's when he came out with the peace campaign and that's when he started climbing the polls,' said Richard Dyer, longtime publisher of the weekly English-languge newspaper The Tico Times.

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'After he was elected he pursued the concept of the peace plan, almost to the extent of ignoring things at home,' Dyer said by telephone.

In his inauguration speech on May 8, 1986, Arias urged his Central American neighbors to revive Latin America's Contadora Group peace effort, saying 'there can be no peace as long as there is intransigence and an absence of dialogue.'

And despite Costa Rica's role as a staunch U.S. ally, Arias took a stand against U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebels. He said he would not allow them to operate in his country -- a strongly democratic and largely middle-class nation that calls itself the 'Switzerland of Central America' and which has no standing army.

Nine months after his inauguration, at a summit of regional leaders in Costa Rica, he unveiled the Arias Plan -- a proposal that became the backbone of the Central American peace plan signed in Guatemala on Aug. 7.

Arias, described by those who know him as quiet but persistent, plugged the plan in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Washington, arguing it was the best chance to end the guerrilla wars that have wracked the region for almost a decade.

Dyer said Arias first did a lot of arm-twisting to get the Central American presidents together, then pushed the peace plan through 'single-handedly.'

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Arias then did not hesitate to criticize either President Reagan's lack of support for the plan or Managua for refusing to negotiate with the Contras.

Fluent in English, he argued his proposal head-to-head with Reagan during a visit to Washington in June, telling Reagan his support for Contras had isolated the United States in world opinion.

'You're betting on war. Why don't we bet on peace instead,' Arias told Reagan.

And during a 1986 visit to Managua, Arias said he told Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega 'What you call democracy isn't called democracy here or in any part of the world.'

Arias began his political career in 1970 as national director of economic planning in the second administration of President Jose 'Pepe' Figueres, renowned for abolishing the Costa Rican army.

He became Minister of National Planning in 1972, at age 30, and has written half a dozen books and several essays on Costa Rica's politics and economy.

Arias is married to Margarita de Penon and the couple has two children, Eugenia, 9, and Oscar Felipe, 7. The family was at a beach in Guanacaste, 130 miles north of San Jose, when the peace prize winner was announced.

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