"OUR THANKS TO IAJU FOR ITS SUPPORT
IN THESE DIFFICULT TIMES THAT
UCA AND NICARAGUA ARE LIVING."
- José A. Idiáquez, S.J., Rector of Universidad Centro Americana, Nicaragua.
Over the last two years Nicaragua has been submerged in a social, economic and political crisis that has claimed many lives to the date and have left many others hopefulness.
In this context, Universidad Centro Americana (UCA) and its students, has suffered the repression of the government and the military. This repression has put at risk UCA as a university, the life of the rector, who has been targeted with death threats, and has ended with the lives of many students. Nevertheless, the university stands against the oppression in defense of the truth and justice for the people of Nicaragua.
During the constitutional assembly of IAJU (Deusto Assembly), the whole network of higher education institutions of the Society of Jesus, through this new association, made its first official statement of solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and the UCA.
Since this time Jesuit higher ed. institutions have shown their solidarity and generosity supporting their sister university in Nicaragua in different ways, see here some examples:
- Support to the students internationally:Jesuit universities have sponsored and hosted many UCA students in their campuses and countries.
- Scholarships: Different regional associations (E.g. AUSJAL, UNIJES, AJCU, Jesuit provinces and more) have raised over $100,000 to support UCA´s scholarship program.
- Institutional and regional statements of solidarity.
- Presence of UCA in national and international communication channels(Radio, TV and newspapers).
Moreover, On Sunday, June 16th, Fr Chepe, S.J. received an honorary degree from Seattle University in recognition of his scholarship work, his commitment and courage to defend those suffering persecution and his work as an agent for peace.
Today, we are very grateful for the time that he has dedicated to our interview too. Here we offer you an interview of Fr Chepe, S.J. where he talks about the situation of the country and UCA and how he has felt the solidarity, generosity and commitment of the network of Jesuit higher education institutions over the last years.
Interview to Rev. José Alberto “Chepe” Idiaquez, S.J, president of the University of Central America Note: Original interview in Spanish.
How has the situation in the country developed over the last two years?
The university youth was the first to stand up in April. It was followed by the youth in general. The youth was followed by the majority of the population. It was young students who woke up a country. "They were students, they were not criminals" was the first slogan to be chanted in the streets. To this day, we live in a situation of terror and insecurity.
The immediate antecedents to the April rebellion were two: both linked to the consciousness of Nicaragua's millennial youth. In March, Vice President Rosario Murillo announced that social networks were harmful and that laws would be passed to regulate them. And at the beginning of April 2018, a large extension of the Indio-Maíz biological reserve in southeastern Nicaragua, on the border with Costa Rica, began to be consumed by an uncontrollable fire. The country's young environmentalists marched at the UCA, demanding from the government more decisive and urgent responses, which never arrived.
When what came was a deluge that put out the fire, on April 16 Ortega gave the green light to a social security reform - bankrupt due to government mismanagement - that among other measures reduced pensions for the elderly.
On April 18, the protests for the social security reform were suppressed with extreme violence, as usual, by "shock forces" of the government, members of the Sandinista Youth and "motorized". What was different on this occasion was that the next day, April 19, there were more young people protesting in León, Managua, Masaya and other parts of the country. They were young people defending their grandparents, the elderly who would see their pensions reduced. Students from several universities in the country protested in the streets. And the population began to join them.
On that day, the general rejection of the grievances, injustices and abuses of the regime by a large part of the Nicaraguan population became visible. Rejection had accumulated over a decade. And it finally exploded. It was an awakening, an "insurrection of conscience.
The government's response to the protests, which have not stopped growing since that day in the main cities of the country, and in many of the more rural municipalities, was a disproportionate repression. "Let's go with everything" was the order that Murillo gave on April 19 to the political secretaries of the entire country. "Everything" meant any means, no matter how criminal, to quell the rebellion.
In Nicaragua, killing university students means killing the dream of poor families. To have a university son or daughter is the illusion most cherished by the poor. In order to achieve this, they save, they pawn, they make an effort. This is fundamental to understand the repudiation that caused the regime to shoot at university students. "We let everything pass you by, but you would never have touched our kids," said a cardboard that a woman carried in her hands during the first march that took place in Managua. From that cardboard he was talking to Daniel Ortega. Everything - the controlled institutions, the electoral frauds, the generalized corruption -, everything was allowed to go by, but not that it killed the kids, the young university students. So far, the repression has not stopped, despite the release of several political prisoners among peasants, students and journalists. Some are still missing.
How has the situation in the country affected the functioning and mission of the UCA?
Nicaraguan universities suffered the direct impact of repression against students. Their campuses were attacked by police and paramilitary forces interested in repressing student protests at any cost. The aim was to remove students who had barricaded themselves on campuses, defending their universities as spaces for struggle.
The Central American University (UCA) was not taken over by students but was attacked at its main gate and was a refuge for the population attacked in the Mother's Day march, in which approximately two hours 21 people were killed. In later days bullets were found that had impacted different areas of the campus.
As a result of the hostile environment that prevailed against, above all, university students, our campus was closed for security reasons. Academic activities were interrupted and then resumed at the end of the year only in virtual mode.
At the UCA, the situation we experienced did not make us give up our educational work. The impact of the "let's go with everything" has not been as desired by the repressive government. On the contrary, the events of April reinforce our commitment to our educational model and our university mission.
Currently, while in state universities many students have been expelled or their records erased for having participated in the protests, in the UCA the student population knows that there is freedom of expression and freedom of opinion. While the students of the state universities keep quiet for fear of reprisals, inside the campus of the UCA, the students feel safe despite the fact that every day our university is surrounded by around 100 to 150 police and paramilitaries who harass and intimidate our students and workers. Telephone death threats to the rector continue and he is accused of supporting the UCA student population in continuing the protests.
We are not only being intimidated militarily, but also financially with the cutback of scholarship money and at the legal level, because the Ministry of the Interior does not want to give us permission to function as a university. Without this permission the banks will not be able to pay our employees and the UCA will not be able to carry out other types of financial procedures. Without that permit, we would suffer a technical closure of the University. We are working with our lawyers to obtain that "legal" document. We know that behind this obstacle is the hand of the Ortega-Murillo government.
IAJU's declaration of solidarity lived with much depth, authenticity, hope and support from the entire network. Did part of this spirit reach the UCA?
Without a doubt, the IAJU declaration of solidarity was lived with much hope and gratitude. It was an excellent support at a time when the UCA was under heavy attack and many students were being brutally murdered and tortured. We felt that we were not alone and also the government received the message that the UCA is an institution that goes beyond the borders of Nicaragua. As an educational institution, the UCA, in tune with the IAJU network, uses its human and technical resources so that the excluded majorities of this globalized world, and of our Nicaragua, overcome exclusion and transform their lives. We want the entire university community and our students to be in direct contact with the most impoverished Nicaraguans, with our less favored compatriots.
The University must guarantee a good academic preparation. That means an excellent education, a wealth of knowledge, content, research skills and skills that will be useful to our students in the challenges that await them in their professional lives. But if this academic quality does not consider those who cause human suffering, if it does not take into account all that causes suffering to the human condition, it will not be responding to the educational project that Ignacio de Loyola and the first Jesuits designed for us.
When budgets for education are investigated and, even more importantly, when we observe the culture that is expressed in the classroom through values, symbols and discourses, the school and the university appear as spaces in which social stratification based on discrimination between social classes, between ethnic groups, between men and women is perpetuated.
Authentic human development is development that recognizes and respects cultural, historical and gender diversity as fundamental values for building a better society. Authentic human development does not forget the value of the environment and recognizes and respects the social, productive and ethnic wealth of every corner of Nicaragua's geography.
University education cannot be reduced to the transmission of technical skills. It requires identifying our students with values that they must assume: critical spirit, willingness to dialogue, curiosity to investigate and read, discipline, rejection of sectarian attitudes, collaboration with others, tolerance, respect for differences, acceptance of different religious beliefs and political sympathies, sense of commitment... These values seem outdated in today's culture, where everything is ephemeral.
The UCA is obliged to be present in the marginalized countryside, in impoverished urban areas, supporting cooperatives, training fishermen, accompanying migrants and their families, fighting alongside so many women who bring their families forward, providing psychological care to those who cannot afford to pay for a private service, collaborating in the legalization of the properties of the poorest, contributing to the defense of the environment... When our students meet all these realities, their research will no longer be pure statistical data, numbers, variables, tables and charts... When our students meet all these realities, their research will no longer be pure statistical data, numbers, variables, tables and charts....
After the IAJU declaration, how did the UCA as an Institution feel the support of the global network of Jesuit universities and regional associations? Did this helped/supported you as a person and rector to maintain the courage, faith and determination to face such a dramatic situation?
In the role our students assumed in the April rebellion we see the fruits of our educational work. It gives us great satisfaction to hear our students formulate their protests, denounce injustices and propose solutions.
But our commitment will continue with the heart and mind inspired by "ALL TO LOVE AND SERVE". The global network of Jesuit universities and regional associations gives confidence to our work because we know we are not alone. We have mission partners, institutions from different regions that accompany and support us. As a Jesuit and rector of the UCA I feel grateful and supported by IAJU to continue in the struggle for "the service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice". From the University we still have a lot to do. From the academic point of view, our University seeks the power that truth has in order to continue giving our contribution to the transformations that Nicaragua needs. And as what characterizes the University and the university world is to be the space where the diversity of creeds and thoughts coexist, we believe that it is to welcome and respect all that diversity that will enhance our teaching, our research and all our tasks of social projection.
A university cannot be neutral, it cannot remain impassive in the face of painful reality. We want to build a community in fruitful dialogue, always asking ourselves freely what we work for and at the service of whom we work. Our brother Ignacio Ellacuría knew this well. In his last speech, given ten days before he was assassinated on the campus of the Central American University of El Salvador, he affirmed:
"It is often said that the University must be impartial. We don't think so. The University must pretend to be free and objective, but objectivity and freedom can demand to be partial. And we are freely partial in favor of the popular majorities, because they are unjustly oppressed and because in them, negatively and positively, is the truth of reality.”
Finally, what is the main challenge of a university in the face of human suffering?
A university makes sense as long as through its gates and its windows into human suffering because we don't share our classrooms with robots. We must sensitize our students, in any of their subjects, to understand that human suffering is part of the academic challenge. If we do not achieve this ethical commitment to feel the pain of others as our own, we are not doing academia, we are not doing research and we are not socially projecting ourselves as a university.
The situation of death and uncertainty in the world demands that our work in teaching and research has as its ultimate goal to give our contribution in this struggle to avoid the suffering of the just and ensure the search for truth.