By Scott Sonner and Deepti Hajela, Associated Press
RENO, Nev. (AP) — The longtime director of the international center at the University of Nevada in Reno is the latest woman to accuse Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Costa Rican President Óscar Arias of sexual misconduct.
Carina Black said in interviews this week that Arias boxed her in against a wall inside an elevator at the university in 1998 and then tried to kiss her. She said it happened after she spent a day escorting Arias to meetings and an evening speaking engagement at the university.
“I just smacked him in the face and pushed him away,” Black said. “Then the elevators doors opened, and I left.”
Arias, 78, met with prosecutors in Costa Rica on Wednesday to give a statement in two criminal complaints against him alleging sexual assault and sexual abuse, but he has declined to provide any specific public comment since he denied the initial complaint last week.
At least six women have made accusations against him ranging from unwanted advances to alleged assault. The Associated Press interviewed three people Black told about Arias’ behavior shortly after she said it occurred, including her husband.
Black was 31 at the time and new to her job at the Northern Nevada International Center she helped found. She recalled struggling throughout the day because of what she described as Arias’ overly intrusive demeanor leading up to the misconduct in the elevator.
Now 52, Black said he repeatedly tried to hold her hand and invited her to visit him in Costa Rica but that she tried to ignore the moves she found offensive, not wanting to be rude, because the 1987 Nobel laureate had been invited to the university and was a guest of honor.
“I was constantly trying to be polite because he’s a person of authority,” Black said.
Arias was twice elected Costa Rica’s president and received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end protracted and bloody civil wars in Central America.
Black said she decided to come forward to support the woman who launched the first criminal complaint last week against Arias in Costa Rica.
Arias on Wednesday appeared at the Costa Rica prosecutor’s office with his lawyer and told reporters he has always answered questions during 50 years in public life but declined to do so, saying “on this occasion my lawyer has requested I not make statements.”
In the first criminal complaint filed, Arias is accused of groping, kissing and penetrating a female peace activist with his fingers at his home in 2014. A former Miss Costa Rica lodged a second complaint, saying Arias grabbed, groped and kissed her against her will at his home in 2015.
“We almost always think that it is our fault that we encourage these kinds of situations,” Black said. “Unless we come out and say something to the contrary, this will continue to happen to other women.”
Arias denied wrongdoing after the initial complaint, saying he “never disrespected the will of any woman” and has fought for gender equality during his career. As more allegations emerged, his lawyer Erick Ramos has declined to comment further.
Black said she became aware of the allegations Arias faces last week when a friend at the U.S. State Department with whom she had given a presentation on sexual harassment sent her a news article about the initial accuser.
“I feel so much sympathy for this woman in Costa Rica. She went to all these lawyers who apparently told her they won’t take her case because he is so powerful,” she said. “I’m protected by both distance and the rule of law here in the United States, so I don’t have as much to fear as all of these women who are in much closer proximity to him.”
University of Nevada spokeswoman Kerri Garcia confirmed Black was working at the university when Arias visited on April 6, 1998. Black helped found the center that year to facilitate visits for prominent international figures like Arias. He was one of her first official guests, who also included Desmond Tutu.
She said she kept a photograph album of a banquet for Arias attended by other dignitaries, including then-U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan and then-Nevada Gov. Bob Miller, as well as photos of Black and Arias posing together.
Looking at it for the first time more than 20 years later “just made me gag,” she said.
A student adviser who helped organize the event, Josefine Durazo, said in an interview that Black called her shortly after the Arias event and said, “You’re not going to believe what happened.”
Black told her what Arias did in the elevator and “was really upset at the time, infuriated,” said Durazo, who now works for the World Bank in Washington, D.C.
Richard Siegel, a retired university political science professor who appeared in a picture with Arias at the banquet, said Black told him about it a day or several days later.
“I remember her telling me what happened, her version of it —being accosted on the elevator,” Siegel said in an interview.
Black’s husband, Greg, said his wife told him after she returned home from the event that night.
Greg Black said he encouraged his wife to speak out to set an example for their four daughters, to lend credibility to Arias’ first accuser “and let her know she is not alone.”
Costa Rica’s National Liberation Party last week announced Arias was leaving the party pending an outcome of the first criminal case.
Hajela reported from New York. Associated Press writer Javier Cordoba contributed to this report from San Jose, Costa Rica.