At least two women have accused Nobel laureate and former Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez of sexual misconduct. The allegations have been described as the highest-profile #MeToo accusations in Latin America to date.
Herold has accused Arias of sexually assaulting her in 2014. The activist, who said she’d often met with Arias to discuss nuclear disarmament issues, said she’d been at the statesman’s home when he suddenly approached her from behind, touched her breasts and penetrated her with his fingers.
“I just froze, and I didn’t know what to do,” Herold recalled of the incident, speaking to the Times. “I was so much in shock. That had never happened to me before.”
A second woman, Emma Daly, told The Washington Post on Tuesday that Arias groped her in 1990. Daly, now the head of communications at Human Rights Watch, was a reporter based in Costa Rica at the time. She told the Post that she had approached Arias, who was then president, in the lobby of a Nicaragua hotel to ask him a question but instead of responding, he “ran his hand between her breasts and exclaimed, ‘You’re not wearing a bra.’”
The newly-surfaced allegations could derail Arias’ legacy.
The 78-year-old statesman, who served as president of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990 and again from 2006 to 2010, is considered one of Latin America’s most powerful and respected politicians. He was given the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end Central America’s civil wars and continues to play an influential role in the region as president of the Arias Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes democracy, disarmament and human rights.
Arias, through an attorney, told the Times that he categorically denied Herold’s accusations against him. Another of Arias’ lawyers said the politician would not comment on Daly’s allegation, telling the Post that “since there is an ongoing investigation, our code forbids us to reveal information.”
Herold said the #MeToo movement in the U.S. ― specifically the rape and sexual assault allegations that took down USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar ― had inspired her to come forward with her own story.
She’d previously felt intimidated by the idea of accusing someone so powerful of sexual misconduct, she told the Times. Herold said she’d written posts on social media last year detailing her encounter with Arias, but had deleted them after a local journalist pointed out that she could face negative ramifications.
Daly, Arias’ second accuser, said she had not thought to make a formal complaint against Arias immediately following the alleged groping because of how typical such behavior was in Central America at the time.
“We just kind of took it,” Daly told the Post. “It seemed as if being treated like that came with the territory, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.”
Laura Chinchilla Miranda, who served as Costa Rica’s president from 2010 to 2014 and as Arias’ vice-president from 2006 to 2008, addressed the allegations against Arias in a Tuesday Facebook post.
“Experience confirms that for female victims of sexual harassment, it is extremely difficult to report incidents because of the power relationships that operate against them and intimidate them, and because of the stigmatization that they could be subjected to,” she wrote, adding that society has the obligation to help victims so they can “break their silence.”