President of the UCA. “This is a punishment for having critical thinking”

The UCA in these days received the news that the budget subsidy that they have received by constitutional mandate – like all universities that belong to the National University Council (CNU)-  was drastically cut by 26.74% this year, when the rest of the universities received cuts of between 0.03 to 1.48%. La Prensa interviewed the President of the UCA, who is also part of the National Dialogue, about this incident and the current situation.

[When the 6% from the CNU for the UCA was not disbursed in August 2018, the Jesuit Universities in the US started a scholarship fund for the UCA, which is now more important than ever. 

President of the UCA. “This is a punishment for having critical thinking”

The National University Council (CNU) cut more than 26% of the budget for the Central American University, which will affect some two thousand scholarship students.

By Ivette Munguía Argeñal, January 11, 2019 La Prensa

[original article in Spanish at https://www.laprensa.com.ni/2019/01/11/nacionales/2512306-rector-de-la-uca-esto-es-un-castigo-por-tener-pensamiento-critico ]

One of the most painful chapters of the recent history of Nicaragua was etched with blood and bullets on the principal entry gate of the Central American University (UCA). Stones, broken glass, bullet holes and the impressive padlock that exist there brings to mind the thousands of people fleeing the attack of the Sandinista mobs, who on not being able to reach their prey, discharged their fury against the university that sheltered them.

Since April 18, 2018 the attacks on the UCA have been constant, their students have been jailed or forced into exile, the president is under death threats, the Orteguista Police (OP) stalks those who arrive at the alma mater, and now the National University Council is trying to take away the state subsidy that is due them by law.

The president of the UCA, José Alberto Idiáquez, a Jesuit priest, is convinced that the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega intends to punish the UCA by taking away their state subsidy for promoting critical thinking among the students, because in authoritarian regimes “a thinking person becomes dangerous”, because for them “ignorance is strength”.

How is the reduction of the state subsidy going to impact the university?

All the universities have (a budget reduction) of between 0.23 to 1.4%, and we -26%, that with the devaluation (of the cordoba) we get to 30%, this affects more than two thousand scholarship students that are already in the UCA, and also the new students because on having to fulfill our commitment to those who have to graduate, we cannot with this large a disruption provide scholarships to the new students who have requested them.

Why does the UCA need the 6%?

Last year we had around eight thousand students, and of those, five thousand receive scholarships, but those scholarships are not given for political reasons in this university, they are given for academic reasons. Young people who have good grades, no matter what their color may be, evangelical, Catholic, atheist, from any political party, if they are a good student and keep their grades up, have their scholarship, here there is no political patronage, we have a scholarship commission where the president is the director.

What are you going to do for this academic year?

We are discussing the possibilities, because we also cannot put the young people at risk. This country is a country of uncertainty, and we are experiencing this 24 hours every day, so we have to make that decision as we get closer to it, we cannot put the youth at risk if there is a situation of insecurity, because the parents are not going to send their children either in this context, where in every university you have three or four patrol cars, anti-riot police, I think that is not very helpful.

The new president of the CNU is the president of the UNAN-Managua, Ramona Rodríguez. How is the relationship with the new administration of the CNU?

I do not have any personal situation, even in the Dialogue we would greet one another, I think that this is not a matter of personalizing it, nor do I have anything against the new president of the CNU…we are respectful, but what we will not allow are unjust attitudes, and we cannot allow that students continue to be detained, we have to denounce that, we have ex students of the UCA who are jailed, (Edwin) Carcache is one of those who continues in jail. The people politically abducted cannot continue there, because it is a great injustice and the UCA is committed to the students.

Could it be said that the UCA is paying for defending the students?

I think that there are several factors: a university where people think becomes dangerous, a thinking person becomes dangerous, because (George) Orwell in his famous novel 1984 said that “ignorance is strength”, so in this university people are taught to think, to be critical thinkers and to have contact with the reality. You are not going to study in order to obey orders from someone who is telling you to kill another person… In the Society of Jesus and the Jesuit educational institutions we have to be on the side of the victims, the people who are suffering and who are experiencing injustices, like our students who do not have any reason to be hidden.

They are not promoting this critical thinking in other universities?

I could not talk about the other universities, but I can tell you that here in the UCA it is fundamental…even though I should say that it was a lack of respect on the part of the UNEN to make that petition against the UCA, because they know perfectly well that here there are poor students like them, but that think differently. So, punishing one person because they think is a bad sign. I think – as you are saying – that this is a punishment for having critical thought, and it is not just now, since I have been president they have been telling me “be careful about what you say”, and I believe that there are issues that one should not be quiet about, if they are killing students, murdering peasants and taking them prisoner, that the demand of the service of faith and the promotion of justice obliges you to not stay quiet, because if not, we are going to be accomplices.

Daniel Ortega promised the UNEN to evaluate their petition to take the 6% away from the UCA and include the universities of the Caribbean, how are you preparing yourself?

First of all, I am happy that Mr. Ortega thinks about the Caribbean…but not at the cost of taking money away from another university out of punishment, because they do not think the same as he, that it what it seems to me is not right, but I do congratulate him, if he truly is going to support the universities of the Caribbean.

Have you discussed a scenario without the money from the 6%?

Right now we have to discuss, it because this is a step before [that one], it would seem that since we are not well-thought-of, if the economic situation gets worse, it would not surprise me that they would take away the 6%, I do not discard that possibility.

In June 2018 you received death threats, do they continue?

I have received (messages through) Whatsapp where they insult me, since I have precautionary measures (from the IACHR), I report them. I cannot say that Mr. Ortega and the Ms. Murillo are ordering me to be killed, I cannot say that, but it is clear that at some moments when I go out they are following me. I have also received insults from people who tell me that I am a “coup monger”, that I am a “traitor priest”, and other insults that are not worth mentioning, which are typical of those trying to discredit a person.

Are you in fear for your life?

The truth is that I am calm, if it happens it happens, I believe that as a human being even Jesus himself was afraid when he sweated blood and put things in the hands of his Father…My professors were murdered in El Salvador, I know what I am involved in, and I know the consequences that being a Jesuit and being in favor of justice imply.

Have you thought about leaving the country?

No, I have to stay here, I would only leave with the six million inhabitants, even though I no longer know how many of us are here right now. If it is time for me to go to the cemetery, well some day I will have to go there.

In Nicaragua there is a lot of uncertainty. You were part of the National Dialogue, do you see some way out of the crisis?

You are asking me a very difficult question, when you see that all the signs are of non dialogue, and that rather people who think differently are attacked, the truth is at this moment I do not see in Mr. Ortega and Ms. Murillo the willingness to do that. They will have their own reasons, but nor can I be unrealistic, because the signs are not signs of dialogue, rather of harassment, because they have not stopped raiding houses, capturing people unjustly and a situation of fear.

Could external pressure be the solution?

I hope that good sense comes at the right time and that they realize that there is nothing to gain by leaving the country destroyed, continuing to kill people, all of us have hope that there is a reasonable way out. I as a priest always ask God that we find a way out, I know that all these things are pressures for which the people of Nicaragua pay a cost; so he who has food and is assured is fine, but the poor, who are the majority of this country, are the ones who are paying that cost.

Is it possible that there be a solution that would not imply an armed conflict?

I said when we were starting the dialogue that it would be a disaster that this country would go into a civil war, this would be a big mistake. I think that we Nicaraguans have to peacefully endure, because we have to show that it is not weapons, it is not killing people that problems get solved.

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