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0 October 24, 2002
Volume 33 Number 5
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Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias Urges Action to Build a "Just and Peaceful World"

Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias Urges Action to Build a 'Just and Peaceful World'
Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias Urges Action to Build a "Just and Peaceful World"

Calling for a "new code of ethics and morality" in America, Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Laureate, challenged educators, students, and community members to take action to "get this great country back on track."

Arias told the October 11 President's Lecture audience at Laxson Auditorium, "We cannot survive in the 21st century with 20th century values." Materialism, hypocrisy, selfishness, and greed must give way, he said, to compassion, generosity, social justice, equality, and love.

The world expects the United States to be a moral as well as a military superpower, Arias claimed, yet the U.S. is the world's main exporter of arms, perpetuating poverty in the Third World. "The children of the world need schools, not tanks; health care, not fighter jets," he said. "It is a crime to make governments spend scarce resources on arms."

When American values come into conflict with American interests, Arias said, values lose, especially outside U.S. borders. He cited examples of U.S. support for dictators, withdrawal from the Kyoto accord to combat global warming, and foreign aid that is the lowest of any industrialized nation (when measured as a percentage of GNP) and based on U.S. interests, not the needs of 1.2 billion of the world's living on less than $1 a day.

Even at home, the inconsistencies of U.S. values are seen, he said, with one in five children living in poverty, knowing that "the American dream is not for them."

Arias was president of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990 and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his plan for peace in Central America, an area torn by civil war in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Arias brought together the presidents of nine Latin American countries, who signed the Esquipulas II Accords, called the Procedure to Establish a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America. The plan called for internal dialogue, cease-fire, freedom of speech, and free election in the three warring countries and for an end to superpower support for rebel forces.

With the Nobel Prize money, Arias established the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, whose mission is to promote just and peaceful societies with three programs: the Center for Human Progress (women's rights), the Center for Peace and Reconciliation (demilitarization and preventive diplomacy), and the Center for Organized Participation (strengthening of civil societies).

While in Chico, Arias also met with local groups, including the Chico Peace and Justice Center, Food Not Bombs, Peaceworks, and Grandmothers for Peace, as well as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the local Costa Rican community. "Dr. Arias thanked the groups for their grassroots efforts in promoting peace and social justice," said Ileana Gantt, a Butte College Spanish instructor, who arranged the meeting.

Fifty freshman and sophomore honors students had an opportunity to talk with Arias at an afternoon reception. Kirk Monfort, coordinator of the General Studies Thematic Program, said that students were surprised by the discrepancies between U.S. policies and ideals that Arias highlighted and by his facts about world poverty and his insights into world opinion. "They were surprised to find out that not everybody loves us," he said.

Speaking gently yet mincing no words, Arias told them of his main complaints against the United States:

  • "Your government resorts to the threat of force quite easily and quickly."
  • "There is a lack of patience to find a diplomatic solution."
  • "Terrorism is a threat to the whole civilized world, but not the only one. Environmental degradation and poverty need to be taken as seriously."

Questioned about Iraq, he said, "Unilateral action is a slap in the face to the countries of the world." The world resents American arrogance, he maintained: "Your government has become the Romans of the Third Millennium -- telling the world what to do."

"You will never know how the world looks at your government unless you read newspapers and watch TV from other countries," Arias told the students.

However, he said, letting this knowledge turn into cynicism is the greatest tragedy of all.

He encouraged grassroots action to transform government: "Where government is failing, you are the helpers. Do not be discouraged. There is much to be done, but there are many of us to do the work. I implore you not to become the Silent Majority: do not simply accept these policies and go on with your lives. This room is filled with people qualified to build a just and peaceful world."

Arias was the sixth Nobel Peace Prize Winner to speak for the President's Lecture Series since 1999. His visit was sponsored by Chico Performances; AT&T Broadband; AT&T Wireless; A.S. Chico; the Offices of the Provost and President at CSU, Chico; Butte College; and the City of Chico.

Francine Gair

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