“Society was so weak after those terrible years ... [Many political players] didn't really understand the importance of a bigger state and important reforms in education and health and more inclusive economic growth,” says Anders Kompass of the United Nations office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights who worked closely on the Central American peace agreement. Still, he says, the “Esquipulas agreement was a landmark in the history of Central America, and I think it's going to be seen like that … 50 or 100 years from now.”
Protracted wars showed no signs of abating in the 1980s, worsened by the cold-war climate that saw the United States and Soviets boosting their respective sides in a Central American proxy war. The majority view in the US at the time was to pump money to the Contras in Nicaragua and the government of El Salvador, which was battling Soviet-funded guerrillas.
In the wake of intra-regional hostilities and other failed peace negotiations, Mr. Arias, who served as Costa Rica's president from 1986 to 1990, took the lead on a plan, debated in Esquipulas, to demilitarize the region. This included folding all sides into democratic systems and downsizing militaries. Weakening military control was pinpointed as the first step toward peace, but the accord also aimed to halt international players, like the US, from funding irregular forces like the Contras.
“It revealed a degree of initiative and independence that the region hadn't seen before, almost a defiance of the Reagan policy,” says Mr. Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, which is sponsoring an event this month with the Organization of American States (OAS) to mark the 25th anniversary of the Esquipulas agreement.