During the 1970’s he joined the Social Democratic party and entered public office in that era. He ultimately was elected to the presidency in 1986 when political torment and disorder plagued the region of Central American including a deadly civil war that was raging in Nicaragua – a situation that was further exacerbated by the involvement of the United States seeking to maintain its global hegemony.
Sanchez sought to find a peaceful resolution to the turmoil that engulfed the region. As a consequence of his efforts, he designed a plan in 1978 that was ultimately approved by the governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The goal of the strategy outlined in the plan was the implementation of free and fair elections, appropriate and verifiable safeguards for human rights and an end to foreign interference in the signatory countries internal affairs – this latter aspect of the agreement was particularly aimed at the United States government. In the process of formulating this agreement, Sanchez pushed back at the American government’s attempt to alter the peace plan that was signed in 1987. He also refused to grant permission to allow the United States to use Costa Rican territory to provide logistical support to the Contras.
The following is Oscar Arias Sánchez’s Acceptance Speech, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1987
“When you decided to honour me with this prize, you decided to honour a country of peace, you decided to honour Costa Rica. When in this year, 1987, you carried out the will of Alfred E. Nobel to encourage peace efforts in the world, you decided to encourage the efforts to secure peace in Central America. I am grateful for the recognition of our search for peace. We are all grateful in Central America.
“Nobody knows better than the honourable members of this Committee, that this prize is a sign to let the world know that you want to foster the Central American peace initiative. With your decision you are enhancing the possibilities of success. You are declaring how well you know the search for peace can never end, and how it is a permanent cause, always in need of true support from real friends, from people with courage to promote change in favour of peace, even against all odds.
“Peace is not a matter of prizes or trophies. It is not the product of a victory or command. It has no finishing line, no final deadline, no fixed definition of achievement.
“Peace is a never-ending process, the work of many decisions by many people in many countries. It is an attitude, a way of life, a way of solving problems and resolving conflicts. It cannot be forced on the smallest nation or enforced by the largest. It cannot ignore our differences or overlook our common interests. It requires us to work and live together.
“Peace is not only a matter of noble words and Nobel lectures. We have ample words, glorious words, inscribed in the charters of the United Nations, the World Court, the Organization of American States and a network of international treaties and laws. We need deeds that will respect those words, honour those commitments, abide by those laws. We need to strengthen our institutions of peace like the United Nations, making certain they are fully used by the weak as well as the strong.
“I pay no attention to those doubters and detractors unwilling to believe that a lasting peace can be genuinely embraced by those who march under a different ideological banner or those who are more accustomed to cannons of war than to councils of peace.
“We seek in Central America not peace alone, not peace to be followed someday by political progress, but peace and democracy, together, indivisible, an end to the shedding of human blood, which is inseparable from an end to the suppression of human rights. We do not judge, much less condemn, any other nation’s political or ideological system, freely chosen and never exported. We cannot require sovereign states to conform to patterns of government not of their own choosing. But we can and do insist that every government respect those universal rights of man that have meaning beyond national boundaries and ideological labels. We believe that justice and peace can only thrive together, never apart. A nation that mistreats its own citizens is more likely to mistreat its neighbours.
“To receive this Nobel prize on the 10th of December is for me a marvelous coincidence. My son Oscar Felipe, here present, is eight years old today. I say to him, and through him to all the children of my country, that we shall never resort to violence, we shall never support military solutions to the problems of Central America. It is for the new generation that we must understand more than ever that peace can only be achieved through its own instruments: dialogue and understanding; tolerance and forgiveness; freedom and democracy.
“I know well you share what we say to all members of the international community, and particularly to those in the East and the West, with far greater power and resources than my small nation could never hope to possess, I say to them, with the utmost urgency: let Central Americans decide the future of Central America. Leave the interpretation and implementation of our peace plan to us. Support the efforts for peace instead of the forces of war in our region. Send our people ploughshares instead of swords, pruning hooks instead of spears. If they, for their own purposes, cannot refrain from amassing the weapons of war, then, in the name of God, at least they should leave us in peace.
“I say here to His Majesty and to the honourable members of the Nobel Peace Committee, to the wonderful people of Norway, that I accept this prize because I know how passionately you share our quest for peace, our eagerness for success. If, in the years to come peace prevails, and violence and war are thus avoided; a large part of that peace will be due to the faith of the people of Norway, and will be theirs forever.”
As a testament to Sanchez’s effort towards peace, Costa Rica remains to this day a model for the transition to a peaceful and stable society.