Past Speakers of the: LANDON LECTURES

Landon Lecture by Oscar Arias Sanchez,

President of Costa Rica
Sept. 21, 1987

History Is Ours to Write
by Oscar Arias Sanchez

It is a great honor for me to participate in the Alfred M. Landon series at Kansas State University. These lectures honor a man whose life has seen a century of freedom. It is essential that such freedom continue, and be a guide for thousands of youth in the future.

At the inauguration of this series in 1966, Governor Landon spoke of the importance of an era of international relations that would "shape the destiny of this world by creating stability on which peace with security is ultimately based. "This," said Governor Landon, "must be our hope. This must be our aim." Over twenty years later, I could not have asked for a better introduction to my address to you today.

Peace and Development

Development and peace are inseparable. Underdevelopment and widespread poverty breed violence. Nothing undermines the struggle for development more than a threat to peace. The internal peace and external security of any nation depend upon that nation's capacity to produce and to distribute the basic needs of its citizens. A climate of war and violence destroys the fabric of society.

For those who live and work in a poor society, it is even more difficult to create the conditions necessary for development. It is unfair that when these conditions exist—such as in the case of my own country—external threats present new obstacles to domestic growth. Costa Rica is struggling to improve its development in peace, but it is directly affected by a war waged by others. Therefore, as I have said many times, the problems of Central America are a part of Costa Rica's problems. But Costa Rica is not a part of the problem of Central America. For this reason, we believe that ending war in Central America is a moral and historical imperative. We are committed to fight for peace in the region.

We believe that domestic tranquility and external security may be attained in our hemisphere only if freedom and democracy prevail in all of the countries. There can be no peace while the press is censored, while freedom of thought is stifled, while opposition groups are persecuted, while the pulpit is silenced, while the ballot box is violated, and while society is subjected to the arrogance of the bayonet. Because of these aberrations, dictatorships are obstacles to peace. We must promote change within those regimes. The same diplomatic pressures would be applied to bring about change in all of them.

The Most Desired Goal

The reality and expectations of Latin American of 1987 are very different from what they were only five years ago. For the Latin American people, the most desired goal is that democracy may spread and thrive. We have paid dearly for authoritarian regimes— politically, socially, and economically. The fall of each despot has left in its wake suffering, torture, forced exile, and other abuses that have scarred deeply the face of the hemisphere.

The economic crisis of the 1980s contributed, to some extent, to the fall of various dictators. But at the same time, this economic crisis has become one of the principal obstacles to the preservation of secure democratic regimes. Those who were deprived of essential needs during dictatorships want their demands to be met immediately. Often, meeting the terms of their demands may not be realistic given the persistent economic crisis. But it is difficult to ask for more patience and sacrifice from those who suffered the political and economic consequences of dictatorships.

A Different International Economic Order

Every new president who assumes power in Latin America energetically calls for a new international economic order. Until now, little has been achieved. What gains have transpired have favored only the most powerful countries in the region. International political support for the establishment of democratic regimes is not accompanied by the same good will in economic terms. This is made quite clear by the fact that some Latin American dictatorships enjoy more favorable international economic treatment than many democracies.

The coming years will be characterized in the political arena by the struggle to obtain adequate economic growth to ensure the survival of democracy. The industrialized world does not seem to share the dramatic importance of this perspective.

When I assumed the office of president of Costa Rica, I spoke of the necessity to create an alliance to support freedom and democracy in the Americas. A democratic government is the only road to lead us out of poverty, dependence, and war. There should be no place in our hemisphere for tyranny because tyrants threaten peace and violate human rights.

To speak of an alliance for freedom and democracy in the Americas also demands a different economic order. This new economic order should honor the political goal of freedom as the most important achievement, rather than emphasize short-term economic gains. Young democracies, therefore, should be granted preferential terms of international trade and external debt relief.

The Threat of War

The reality in Central America is that of a dilemma between war and peace. This has direct impact upon the political, economic, and social well-being of the people. Thousands of displaced families and thousands of refugees who have fled their homelands are the greatest testimony to this ongoing tragedy. The threat of an extended war exacerbates the political and economic uncertainties. While it is possible to speak of some countries in Latin America controlling military spending, most of the Central American nations are involved in an arms race. Some of our republics suffer from guerrilla warfare, which to some extent may be placed in context of the East-West confrontation.

In the past it was suggested that special treatment should be given to Central America because of its relative level of underdevelopment. Today we hear of the necessity of special treatment in order to avoid war. Within this context, everyone seems to think that war is not only possible, but probable. Some think that it would be unjust, useless, and must be avoided. This crisis of war and peace, along with related social and economic problems, has led the international community to focus special attention on Central America.

Economic Reactivation

In theory, it is imperative to support economic growth in Central America. In practice, however, Central America is not receiving sufficient preferential treatment. There are no easy credit terms; few trade advantages, with the exception of the Caribbean Basin Initiative; and no special conditions for renegotiation of external debt. To the detriment of our countries, the international economic dialogue has lost its balance. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, private banks, and other organizations coordinate actions in order to impose conditions on our nations. This conditionality is sometimes too rigorous and is demanded with indifference to the political and social drama in which we live. These organizations often act as if they had no responsibility in history.

Many years ago, development in Latin America was defined as following the road of the industrialized nations. This would be achieved through industrialization of our countries. With this path, accelerated growth was attained for a while, but the expected results did not follow. The gap between the rich and the poor of the world become wider.

We then talked of the need for new North-South dialogue. We sought better prices for our products, greater access to credit under more favorable conditions, and ways to take advantage of technological advances. This new dialogue attempted to bring about a better understanding among nations, based on cooperation, and the recognition that it is right that concessions be made to favor the poorer nations. Again, we made little progress.

Today the marketplace seems to be the principal instrument that determines relations between countries. Small and medium-sized nations are pressured to open their markets, and to stop protecting their small industries, all in the name of efficiency. This produces uncertainty and fear that the immediate consequence may be an increase in unemployment. That in itself may endanger the fragile social stability of many nations. This uncertainty is accentuated at the same time by the increasing protectionism of the developed nations.

In addition, much has been said about "robotization," biotechnology, genetic engineering, as well as the revolution in plastics, synthetics, and production control by computers. Some industrialized countries have produced or are introducing these production methods which give them an additional advantage. Many Latin American nations are not prepared for this technological revolution. Thus, the future may lead to an even greater disparity between the nations of the North and the South if we are not adequately prepared to meet this challenge.

A Commitment to the Less Fortunate

In Costa Rica we are committed to important changes in order to make our economy more efficient. We are looking for ways to increase the competitive nature of our products in international markets. We are looking for ways to improve significantly the productivity and efficiency of our resources. We want to promote growth based on our own efforts because we want to be responsible members of the world economy.

We are committed to following our own path. That allows us to preserve and to strengthen the historical achievements of our own social development and our democracy. We are proud to be a country without an army; a country where dialogue prevails over violence; a country where basic needs of the less fortunate have priority over the demands of the more privileged.

These commitments to economic growth and social justice do not contradict each other, as has often been stated. Rather, they express a responsible view of what constitutes development. We will build a modern economy based on the economy that we have, not on its ashes. We support small producers. We are converting all state enterprises into cooperatives. We believe that in order to strengthen our democracy, to ensure its survival, we must create more proprietors, not more proletariat.

The Peace Agreement

As I have said earlier, this entire effort will be useless if we permit violence and war to continue throughout Central America. In August of this year, the five Central American nations signed a peace agreement. We are convinced that no matter how high the risk of fighting for peace, the cost will always be less than that of war.

The plan for peace signed in Guatemala proposes national reconciliation where brothers are killing brothers. We seek dialogue and we are asking for amnesty. We want a cease-fire as soon as possible. We are asking that democratization be achieved within a fixed time period. We are proposing free elections that will reflect the true will of the majority of the people. We demand that all foreign powers suspend military aid to the irregular forces in the region. We seek guarantees that no nation will allow its territory to be used to attack another nation. We want a reduction of arms in the region. We are asking for national and international supervision from the Contadora group, the support group, and the secretaries general of the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

We have proposed guidelines to evaluate progress toward achieving peace. We are convinced that with democracy and freedom we may restore development that will permit us to enjoy a true and lasting peace. This view reflects years of work of the Contadora group and emerges from a century of democracy and freedom in Costa Rica.

By signing the agreement in Guatemala we have taken a step, in good faith, toward a commitment to work for peace. We have set deadlines; and above all, we have established common goals. Some goals we will achieve sooner than others. Some will take longer. We will not fall into a trap set by someone who shows us a calendar every day, anxious to bury the last hope, anxious to close the last door. It is possible that reason may prevail in Central America and that dialogue and reconciliation may be established.

The Costa Rican Way

I recognize that the forces we are trying to overcome are very powerful. I know that it is easier to predict defeat. I also know that everything we have accomplished may be easily destroyed. I have taken the Costa Rican way: the greater the obstacle, the harder we have to work, with greater imagination, to overcome it.

We are a country without arms and without soldiers. We do not want and will not support war. This is something we will never do.

My dear friends, we are facing difficult challenges. We must make peace and put an end to the hatred that reflects many decades of poverty and desperation. We must construct a new economy, without delay. Without economic growth we will not be able to attain social justice that millions of Central Americans desperately demand.

Democracies of the world should be united on the road to peace. Free nations must work together. We must not be afraid of freedom. This is a historical moment. How the pages of history are written depends upon us. Let those pages of history be written about reconciliation and dialogue, and not about destruction and death.

I am convinced that despite the enormous difficulties that lie ahead, we can change the course of events in Central America toward peace. The next chapter of history has yet to be written. We are obligated to write it ourselves. I know that together we may write about peace and development. There is no one better than you, the young men and women of this powerful, democratic nation, who may comprehend the necessity to work for peace now. There is no time to lose. I invite you to help us write the next chapter in the history of Central America. History is ours to write.

The transcription of this Landon Lecture was accomplished through the cooperation of the Kansas State University Libraries and the Office of Mediated Education.

Bottom Navigation Bar
Contact us at: (785) 532-5566 or 1-800-432-8222