Fourth Woman in 48 Hours Accuses Nobel Laureate of Sexual Misconduct
Eleonora Antillón had kept her secret bottled up for more than 30 years.
But when she read an article on social media on Tuesday saying a woman had accused Óscar Arias Sánchez, the former president of Costa Rica, of sexual assault, she did not hesitate: “From personal experience with him,” she wrote on the social media platform, “I BELIEVE her!!”
Ms. Antillón is among four women in a 48-hour period to accuse Mr. Arias, 78, of unprovoked and unwanted touching or sexual assault.
The allegations are a serious blow to the legacy of Mr. Arias, who won the Nobel Prize in 1987 for his effort to bring peace to Central America. Twice president of Costa Rica, he has been one of Latin America’s most respected figures.
Ms. Antillón, a former talk show host known by her nickname, Nono, said in an interview that Mr. Arias sexually assaulted her in 1986, when he was a presidential candidate and she was a young press aide.
Two former journalists and a book editor came forward after The New York Times and Seminario Universidad published accounts by a psychiatrist at a state hospital in San José, who filed a formal criminal complaint saying that four years ago, Mr. Arias grabbed her and forced his fingers inside her.
“People end up thinking, ‘If she dared, others will dare,’” Ms. Antillón said in a telephone interview. “I want to unmask the impostor politician.”
Mr. Arias is among the most well-regarded political leaders in Latin America, a senior statesman who used his Nobel winnings to start a foundation that promotes peace and democracy. Now, as the #MeToo movement has reached Costa Rica, he joins a legion of powerful men around the world whose legacies have been tarnished by accusations of sexual assault or harassment.
Prosecutors opened an investigation on Tuesday after the psychiatrist, Alexandra Arce von Herold, 34, gave a formal statement saying that Mr. Arias had sexually accosted her in his home office. She left the country to avoid the scandal and could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Mr. Arias “categorically” denied the assault allegations, saying he never acted in a way that disrespected the will of any woman.
“In my public life I have promoted gender equality, because I believe that it is an indispensable means to achieve a more just and equitable society for all people,” Mr. Arias said in a statement on Tuesday, after Dr. Arce’s accusation became public.
His lawyer, Erick Ramos, said the new allegations were not part of the court case opened this week and so Mr. Arias and his legal team would have no comment on them.
Ms. Antillón said Mr. Arias recruited her from her job in television to work as a press aide on his campaign. In one of their earliest meetings, he put his hands on her leg, she said. Another time, he put her hand on his erect penis. When she resisted, he pushed her against a wardrobe and kissed her, she said. She clenched her mouth shut, and he licked her face, Ms. Antillón said.
The episode ended when people outside the office started knocking on the door, apparently in response to the ruckus, she said. “At no moment did I scream,” she said. “I did not call for help.”
She never told a soul.
Ms. Antillón, now 60, said she completed her three-month contract on the campaign and went back to her regular job. She found herself dressing plainly to not call attention to herself and preferring the company of women, she said. When Mr. Arias returned to public life a decade ago, Ms. Antillón did not want to face him and retired to the countryside.
“I am, I was, almost an Oprah Winfrey in Costa Rica,” she said. “I am totally isolated now, practically hidden.”
Emma Daly, 53, the communications director of Human Rights Watch, was a 25-year-old reporter for Reuters and The Tico Times when she met Mr. Arias at a crowded event at the InterContinental Hotel in Managua.
“I asked him some question, and instead of answering, he literally ran his hands over my chest and between my breasts and said, ‘You’re not wearing a bra!’” Ms. Daly said. “I was so stunned that all that I could think of was to say, ‘Yes, I am!’”
Although she told her boyfriend and other people when it happened, it never occurred to her to file a complaint against a sitting president, she said.
“I didn’t get physically hurt the way other people do,” she said. “It was the humiliation of being made to feel you don’t matter in any way.”
Marta Araya Marroni, a 53-year-old book editor, said she met several times with Mr. Arias as the editor of his 2012 collection of essays and speeches, Con Velas, Timón y Brújula. In one meeting, he suddenly put his hand on her leg. She brushed him off, telling him that he had a girlfriend and the move was inappropriate. She said he then called her twice, insisting that she come over to his house for a massage. Ms. Araya said she finally hung up on him.
“I never kept it a secret. I told everyone,” Ms. Araya said. “The only reason I would have to publish this is so that the people believe the women who file complaints. It disgusts me a lot that people always think these are lies.”
For Ms. Antillón, although the statute of limitations for sexual assault — 10 years in Costa Rica — is long past, she said she would be happy to make a declaration in court.
“I owe it to myself, and I owe it to a lot of women,” Ms. Antillón said.