This is a translation of an interview of Fr. José Alberto Idiáquez, S.J. the President of the Central American University in Managua published in El País, a Spanish newspaper based in Madrid, written by Carlos Salinas on June 15, 2018. Fr. Idiáquez is a participant in the National Dialogue, and has received death threats from pro government supporters.
“Ortega is going to end as a murderer”
The Jesuit priest, threatened with death, does not rule out a new civil war after the violence unleashed by the Nicaraguan president, but is committed to a solution through dialogue.
May 30, 2018 will be remembered as one of the darkest days in the history of Nicaragua. On that day President Daniel Ortega ordered the attack on an enormous demonstration that brought into Managua hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans in support of the mothers of the victims of the violent events of April, when protests began against a reform to social security imposed by Ortega without consensus. The attack on the March of the Mothers left dozens dead and wounded, and plunged the capital of Nicaragua into terror. That afternoon the Jesuit priest José Alberto Idiáquez had to make a key decision: open the gates of the Central American University to provide refuge to some 5,000 terrified people who were fleeing bullets. This gesture surely saved lives, but has cost Idiáquez the hate of the regime. The priest has denounced death threats and directly holds the Government of Daniel Ortega responsible for what may happen. These threats have alerted the Jesuit community – that keeps in their DNA the massacre of the priests in the UCA in San Salvador in 1989 –who have requested protection for the priest. Idiáquez (Managua, 1958) assures in this interview that he is not afraid of denouncing the abuses committed by Ortega against human rights in Nicaragua. He is part of the Civic Alliance that is trying to negotiate, with the mediation of the Church, a peaceful way out of the profound crisis that wounds this small country. The dialogue, he tells El País in a living room of the villa that the Jesuits have on the UCA campus, “is the only thing that can lead us to no more bloodshed”, even though he admits that it is difficult to negotiate with Ortega, a man, he assures, that “can do anything, even order anyone killed.” Idiáquez is afraid that a new civil war will erupt in Nicaragua and states that the president will go down in history “as a murderer.”
The Church, the bishops, the priests have played a key role in this crisis, even at the risk of their lives. How do you see the involvement of the Church in this process?
It seems to me that it is what we have to do. Pope Francis has been clear in saying that we have to be priests but in sheep´s clothing. As the president of a Jesuit university it is my responsibility to be at the front with all the students. After all that has happened in Nicaragua, I think that Ortega can do anything, even order anyone killed. The massacre of the mothers on May 30 was an atrocity and shows his desperation and what he is capable of. What happened that day served to confirm that we have an irrational government, that it does not matter to him to kill the best that the country has, which is the youth.
Do you think the bishops have enough force to make a change in Nicaragua?
At this moment there is great confidence in the Episcopal Conference for the role that it has played in the dialogue. It has been the priests who have done a great job of mediating, so that neither police nor the population are killed. There is great courage. The declarations of the bishops are clear positions to try to stop the repression.
Do you think that too much responsibility has been left in the hands of the bishops?
It is a very big responsibility, even more so because you are talking with a person who does not seem to be reasonable, but what I am interested in is someone who able to stop the dynamic of these people (Ortega and his wife, the Vice president Rosario Murillo), who are not assuming the responsibility for daily murdering people, from April 18 to now. Everyday we get up looking at how many died, or how many were disappeared, how many have been tortured. That fact that at this point they have not stopped killing is a bad sign, a very negative sign, it would seem that his option is to impose fear and terror. Who can govern killing people? It is impossible! This makes the population continue to be angry, beaten.
You have denounced death threats. Rolando Alvarado, the leader of the Jesuits of Central America, holds the Nicaraguan Government responsible if anything happens to you. Are the threats coming from the Executive Branch?
Yes. I am clear that if they kill me it is the Government that will have given the order, or people close to them. What I have done is defend my students, and I have to put myself on the side of a people who are being crucified and murdered every day. And as a Jesuit and President of this university I have the responsibility to speak at this moment, because our mission is not just being in academics, it is also protecting life.
In the DNA of the Central American Jesuits are the murders of the priests in the UCA in San Salvador. Do you feel unsafe in Nicaragua?
This is a country where there is misgovernment, there is no control over anything, and at any moment they kill you, or threaten you for having said something that the Government does not like. This is a country where we all are experiencing great insecurity. It gives the impression that the message that the Government sends is that life is not worth anything, that they can kill us for disagreeing, for thinking, for seeking freedom of expression, for protesting. But the fact of receiving threats does not mean that they are going to shut me up, I am going to continue denouncing that youth are being killed in Nicaragua.
You are part of the National Dialogue roundtable that is trying to find a way out of the crisis. Does this dialogue make sense after neary 150 deaths, hundreds of wounded, disappeared and a wave of terror unleashed in Nicaragua?
I think that we cannot allow this space to die. Dialogue is the only thing that can lead us to no more bloodshed, prevent this country from turning into a river of blood. The dialogue is what would allow us to come up with humane alternatives. The impression is given, nevertheless, that Mr. Ortega is playing more on intimidating the country, to continue killing so that people would be afraid. If we continue in this situation the expectations of the dialogue will be reduced. The dialogue roundtable is not disconnected from the street, and we represent those people who are being tortured, massacred, which is why it is going to get harder and harder to be able to sit down with a people who are beaten, inflamed.
Are there possibilities that a way out of the crisis be found in this dialogue? And what would that be?
Yes, as long as the President responds. I think that the way out should be peaceful. The only way to get out of this without a blood bath is dialoguing and being able to reach rational agreements, even though we know that you cannot dialogue at a table while they are killing the population in the streets. It gives the impression that Mr. Ortega is only accustomed to dialoguing with people who are armed at the other side of the table. He does not want to see that the more people he kills, the more angry the population is, and the more willing to take to the streets.
Do you think there is the risk of another civil war in Nicaragua?
Unfortunately I do not rule it out. What the people say is, “We are fed up with them killing us every day.” There is going to come a time when the people are no longer able to just brave the situation.
What do you think of President Daniel Ortega?
For me it has been a sadness, disappointing, to see that a man who in one moment used to talk so much about freedom, revolution, would end this way. We used to think that we would never have a Somoza again, but Ortega and Murillo are making Somoza look little. It seems to me that a person who offered the people heaven and that now has us in hell, under fire, is going to end up as a murderer, is going to pass into history in a very sad way.
What ending do you see? Will there be more bloodshed? Will Ortega be able to cede power with a peaceful departure?
For what I am seeing at this moment he is not willing to leave power peacefully. What we have talked about with the Bishops is that we have to fight with every means possible so that there is no more bloodshed, no civil war, that this country is not going to be able to resist. It gives the impression that Mr. Daniel Ortega and Ms. Rosario Murillo want to leave the country destroyed.