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Former Costa Rican President Discusses Latin America in Latest Compton Lecture

By Kyle Young
Staff Reporter

Former president of Costa Rica Oscar Arias Sanchez gave his second lecture in a series of three talks as part of the Karl Taylor Compton lectures yesterday. Arias, a Nobel laureate, addressed a mostly full 10-250 on the future of Latin America.

In a seminar entitled "Latin America Faces New Challenges," Arias shared his views on the many problems that lie in the future of Latin America.

"The future of Latin America troubles all Costa Ricans," Arias said. "History tells us that there are no easy answers for Latin America." For the remainder of the 40-minute talk, Arias outlined main problems that the region needs to address.

The Karl Taylor Compton lecture series was established in 1957 in honor of the late Karl Taylor Compton, a former MIT president and chairman of the Corporation.

Poverty and inequality persist

"Almost 100 million exist in poverty" in Latin America, Arias said. "Latin America's fundamental dilemmas remain unresolved. How much poverty can democracy tolerate?"

In the second part of the lecture, Arias identified corruption in politics as a culprit. Latin America has continually suffered from corruption, Arias said. The military has too much power in the region, "where armies are powerful estates with states," he said.

One way to combat the problems is through education. "Education is necessary so that every Latin American can contribute to society," Arias said. In an open question-and-answer session following the lecture, Arias explained the failure of the educational system in Latin America, where schooling is available almost exclusively to the elite.

Unlike the United States, the Costa Rican government devotes most of its educational resources to public universities, Arias said. An education in private high school cost five times as much as an education in public universities, he said.

Ironically, most Costa Rican citizens cannot take advantage of the public university education because primary education is not available to most, Arias said.

America must play larger role

During the latter half of the talk, Arias expressed his dissatisfaction with the little attention that the U.S. government pays to Latin America. "The United States, as we are all aware, is the healthiest and wealthiest nation in the world."

The United States must assume a more guiding role in improving the future of Latin America, Arias said.

Reflecting on President Clinton's recent State of the Union address, Arias said that Clinton only discussed improving relations with China, not Latin America. The Clinton administration will likely continue its policy of indifference to the Latin American countries, Arias said.

Arias was the president of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990. In 1987, he drafted a peace plan that was signed by all the Central American presidents. For helping establish peace during an era of political crisis in Central America, he was awarded the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1988, Arias established the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress.

Arias gave his first lecture entitled "Demilitarization: A Major Factor for Development" on Jan. 13. He will conclude his Karl Taylor Compton Lectures on April 14 with a third lecture entitled "How Much Poverty Can Democracy Endure?"

This year's lectures are sponsored by the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, the School of Architecture and Planning, and the Provost's Office.

The list of past Compton Lecturers includes Nobel Prize Laureate in Physics Niels Bohr, former U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Linus Pauling.