Good News Agency



former President of Costa Rica and 1987 Nobel Peace Laureate


 27 April 2001


Oscar Arias is the symbol of a small country and a great democracy, a State with no army in the tormented region of Central America. While President of the Republic, he succeeded in bringing together at the negotiating table the Heads of State of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and persuading them to sign his peace plan committing the signatories to renounce the use of war in the region. Today, as President of the Arias Foundation, he appreciates the role of Good News Agency in the creation of a more aware public opinion and agreed to give an interview to its Publisher and Editor, Sergio Tripi, on the themes of development and on Good News Agency’s initiative to promote an ethical code of the media.


Sergio Tripi: In spite of the social progress made in Latin America, there are still very difficult problems to be solved in various fields. What new values and what process of change will be necessary to ensure a democratic participation and a life worth of living at all levels in the Region?


Oscar Arias: The world is definitely in need of a new set of values for the twenty-first century.  I have said many times that I would like to see a world with more solidarity and less individualism, more honesty and less hypocrisy, more transparency and less corruption, more faith and less cynicism, more compassion and less selfishness.  In short, a world with more love.

To ensure democratic participation, it will be necessary to strengthen civil society and to ensure that militaries are appropriately subordinated to democratically elected civilian governments.  In addition, democracy will only survive if it can “deliver the goods,” meaning take care of the basic necessities of people.  Continued high levels of poverty, combined with government inefficiency and corruption, tend to make fast-paced and absolute autocratic change more attractive than democratic change to the majority of people.  These are the conditions which lead to disenchantment and passivity in the population at large and facilitate military coups.  In order for democracies to survive, they must find ways of growing their economies and satisfying people’s basic needs.


The key to the basic changes necessary to development rests with the people. What is being done and what else will be necessary to do in the field of education and training in Latin America?


Education is absolutely fundamental to democracy and to prosperity.  Governments should be investing heavily in education, not only at the primary level, but at the secondary and tertiary levels as well.  As a Costa Rican, I have seen the progress possible when military spending is cut out of the national budget.  Since eliminating our army in 1948, we have been able to dedicate significant funds to health and education, with the result that our life expectancy and literacy rates are as high as those of Europe and the U.S.


Yes, Costa Rica is a vivid example to the world of a country that, on the basis of a farsighted constitution, has abolished the armed forces for over half a century and has fostered the progress for peace. As a former President of the Country, how would you rate the availability of financial resources that originate from the abolishment of the expenses for armament?


I partly answered this question. Today in Costa Rica, spending on security (the National Police Force) amounts to only five percent of what we spend on education and health.  The results can be seen in our healthy and well-educated population, which has translated into a higher standard of living and much greater political stability than any of our neighbors in Central America enjoy.  Costa Rica’s success with demilitarization has led me to campaign for other small, poor countries to demilitarise as well.  So far, Panama and Haiti have followed Costa Rica’s example.  There are many poor countries in Africa which would also benefit tremendously from redirecting most if not all of their military spending to alleviate human suffering and build up their populations’ levels of health and education.


There is an increasing tendency on part of the developed countries to alleviate the burden of the foreign debt of the developing countries, with specific social requirements included in the plans designed for the Highly Indebted Poor Countries. However, it is still not enough. What else could be done to improve the situation?


The HIPC initiative should be expanded to include more countries.  Debt-for-nature swaps, as we did here in Costa Rica during my presidency, hold great promise for simultaneously reducing debt and protecting delicate ecosystems and environmental treasures.  Poor countries should greatly reduce if not eliminate military spending, which eats away at scarce resources needed for human development.  Foreign aid should be expanded, for it is in the interest of the wealthy countries to promote human development, as well as the development of infrastructure, in poor countries.  It is only with this type of investment, along with major debt relief, that poor countries will be able to become serious trade partners and to develop sustainable economies.


The ecological balance is a vital factor for peace and life on the planet, and the Earth Charter will certainly play a fundamental role to shape human responsibility at a global level, today so urgent and crucial. What is the contribution of your Foundation to this objective?


We are proud to be located in a country which places a very high value on the natural environment.  Roughly one third of Costa Rica’s national territory is under some form of protection, be it in national parks or private reserves.  Eco-tourism is a booming industry here, and is enjoyed by Costa Rican nationals and foreign tourists alike.  Costa Rica receives more tourists per capita than any other Latin American country, and that is because people want to see the beauty of the natural flora and fauna that are so well protected here.

Although the Arias Foundation does not work directly in the area of environmental conservation, we do promote a vision of human development, which puts people at the center of development policy, and bases development decisions on how they will affect human well-being, particularly that of the poor, as well as that of future generations. 

The three major program areas of the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress are:

The Center for Peace and Reconciliation, which works on conflict resolution, demilitarization, and democratization; The Center for Human Progress, which works to promote equality of opportunity and gender equity in Central American societies; and The Center for Organized Participation, which works to strengthen civil society in Central America.


Why are media still not sufficiently aware of the formidable expression of voluntary service in today’s society? What evidence will make them more attentive to this profound social transformation, still not predominant but nevertheless always growing?


I’m afraid that human nature causes us always to look out for the bad news first; perhaps it is a deeply ingrained self-defense response.  It is certainly unfortunate that for most of the world, good news seems to wash over us without soaking in, while we hang upon every bit of danger, violence, corruption, and scandal.  Still, I have hope that we can work to change our nature and to pay attention to all of the positive things that happen every day.  The strengthening of civil society and the participation at the grass roots level in this effort are bound to bear fruit.


Do you think that an ethical code of the media, of which our Good News Agency is a promoter, a code which underlines the responsibility of the media in the information and balanced formation of public opinion, can be received by the media to the point of accelerating their readiness to consider positive news as worthy of as much attention as negative news?


I wholeheartedly support the ethical code of the media, and in fact, I would go even further.  I believe that the role of the media is not only to inform, but also to form--that is, to educate.  I feel that it’s unproductive for democratic societies to shy away from the topic of values.  Free speech is certainly a fundamental aspect of democracy, but there are others as well, that the media ought to keep in view as it goes about its work of spreading information in free societies.  I believe that we would all like to see such values as solidarity, honesty, transparency, hope, and compassion promoted in our societies, instead of their opposites: individualism, hypocrisy, corruption, cynicism, and selfishness.  I would like to see an international media movement that dares to support such positive values through its collection and dissemination of information to the public.


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