The UCA, the heart of the university protest against the Ortega Murillo dictatorship in Nicaragua
By José Adán Silva, La Prensa, November 24, 2019
The UCA is considered the only place in Nicaragua where protests actions and marches against the Ortega Murillo dictatorship remain alive.
A gate of iron bars, subjected to an intense tug of war on both sides, separates rebellion from repression: the force that is pushing from the street is dressed in a uniform, bears firearms and wears boots.
They receive shouted orders and furiously brandish night sticks in the air, while the deafening noise of sirens and red and blue lights from dozens of patrol trucks grate on the atmosphere.
From the other side of the gate rebellion pushes with placards, white and blue balloons, flags of the same colors, slogans, shouts of ridicule and squirts of water.
Even though they cover their faces with masks and blue and white kerchiefs, their voices are left undisguised when they shout against the brute force on the other side of the gate, and they reveal themselves for what they are: young students demanding democracy.
UCA, Bastion of University Resistance
The scenario of the high-tension spectacle is the Central American University (UCA) in its southwest gate, in front of University Avenue, the prior scenario of university protests and massive marches that were repelled by bullets.
Every day and for more than 18 months dozens of police converge here at the service of the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega to intimidate the students, whose energy appears to be unending in the face of the recurring and disturbing scene of stark repression.
What does the UCA have that would make dozens of patrols of the political police of the regime, motorized forces, civilian para-police forces, fanatics of the dictatorship and even buses full of anti-riot police park in its surrounding area?
Against the “system of terror”
“We are the last site in Nicaragua where protest marches are still done against the dictatorship and its system of terror”, says under condition of anonymity for security reasons, one of the students of the student movement.
She participates in the marches, sit-ins, and expressions of internal protest against the abuses of the dictatorship that the old dictator Daniel Ortega leads, along with his wife Rosario Murillo, who in the face of the university vision is the owner and madam of the most visceral hate speeches ever seen in the political history of the country, and at the same time, the target of the scathing and cutting ridicule of young university humor.
Another of her fellow students, 19 years of age and a law student, still agitated by the last protest in the face of the police repression, explained that the police fury which has stalked them for months, has gotten worse since they opened in that Alma Mater the Museum of the Memory Against Impunity.
The museum, a monument to memory
The site to which the young student referred is a dramatic initiative of the Association of the Mothers of April (AMA), which with the institutional support of the university was installed in the building of the Institute of History of Nicaragua and Central America within the campus.
According to the formal explanation of the site, the museum was built with the principal objective of contributing to honor the victims of the State of Nicaragua beginning in April 2018 and their memory: “The museum challenges the official narrative that criminalizes the citizens who participated in the civic protests and the climate of impunity promoted by the government of Nicaragua”.
In the museum are found profiles of the victims of the state violence, as well as information and stories of the events, photos, audiovisual materials and several documents that allow one to appreciate the dimensions of the social protest context that under the orders of Ortega Murillo took the lives of 328 people, including students, police, workers, peasants and even boys and girls.
The “sins” of the UCA for the dictatorship
Nevertheless, for one of the few professors who dared to speak to La Prensa under condition of respecting their identity, because he was speaking without the institutional authorization to do so, the rage and fury of the regime against the UCA comes from before April 18th.
His thesis is that the UCA committed two actions that to the eyes of the dictatorship were “symbols of challenge and betrayal”.
“The first reason for the hate is that the UCA under the leadership of the Jesuits ended on campus the harmful influence of the Union of Students of Nicaragua, the armed wing of the Sandinista Front of National Liberation (FSLN), in most of the universities financed by the National Council of Universities (CNU)”, said the professor.
Seed of the 2018 protest
And the second reason, he interprets, happened in the context of the current crisis of repression that scourges the country from El Carmen.
The first protests against the forest fire in the Indio Maíz Reserve came from the UCA, and the first group of students who came out to protest on April 18th in Camino de Oriente, most of them were students from the UCA, “so that when the Police and Sandinista Youth attacked them, they ran for refuge into the campus, they chased them here and they attacked them with stones and mortar shots”.
They went out to protest in the afternoon, after that morning in León a demonstration of retired workers who were protesting against the Social Security reforms were clubbed by members of the UNEN [National Union of Students of Nicaragua].
So the UCA eliminated UNEN from its campus
Those scenes of both demonstrations under attack, transmitted by social media and the few independent channels that used to operate back then, ignited the social rage, and protests broke out that later the dictatorship crushed by force in the entire country, except in the UCA, where the tally of protests and actions of demands against the dictatorship are counted by the dozens.
Alfonso Malespín, a former-professor of the UCA for more than ten years, goes farther back in the history of the grudge of the FSLN against the UCA, and traced it back to the nineties, when Sandinism was in the opposition and was destabilizing the country through the UNEN in street battles over the budget of 6% for the universities of the CNU.
“In the years of President Xabier Gorostiaga leading the UCA (1991-1997) the university said that it would quit being the central garrison of the fight for the 6%. This implied a type of rupture with Daniel Ortega, who then was governing from below.”
The infamous figure of Jasser Martínez
“In those years, FSLN operators from the UCA directed the student movement. The position of the UCA was key, for being in the new center of Managua. Since then, the turbulence moved to the UNI”, explained Malespín, to later go back to the internal history that talks about how the Jesuits purged UNEN from their campus.
“After that, the University Student Council of the UCA (CEUUCA, the representative of the UNEN in the UCA), was corrupted, lost legitimacy and its impact on university life,” tells Malespín.
“The Jesuits pushed them out of the University Council, and then moved their office from pavilion J all the way to the back, where the UCA press used to be. After the CEUUCA led by Jasser Martínez (then an UCA student and later a deputy of the FSLN) took over the UCA at the beginning of the past decade (year 2000), the Jesuits made the decision to completely erase the corrupted CEUUCA”, recalled Malespín, who was a full time professor of the School of Communications on that campus.
Attempts by the FSLN to be based in the UCA
“With that the presence of the student movement directed by remote control from El Carmen was eliminated”, he explained.
Later, the leadership of the FSLN tried in different ways to position itself within the UCA, but they were unsuccessful.
“There were at least three attempts to revive the CEUUCA, but the great majority of the student body were not enthused at all. So it is that Jasser Martínez was the grave digger of the student movement of the UCA. Since then the FSLN lost influence through that path. They have tried to recover it through the Juventud Sandinista 19 de Julio, but it has not resulted in very good results,” analyzed Malespín.
The Siren songs of the FSLN
So, he says, the new attempt of cooptation began from above with a strategy of a friendly approach to the highest authority of the UCA.
“The UCA, like big business owners, had an extensive honeymoon with Daniel Ortega. Part of the well known political operators of the FSLN were professors in the UCA: Antenor Rosales (former president of the Central Bank), Francisco Rosales (Vice president of the Supreme Court), Edwin Castro (deputy and head of the FSLN bench in the National Assembly), Wálmaro Gutiérrez, dauphin of the FSLN in economic affairs…”, he recalled.
In addition, remembered Malespín, “most of the lawyers of the FSLN who later moved on to lead the courts, the Prosecutor´s office and high posts in the Police and the Army were trained in the UCA”.
A decade of silence that was broken in 2018
“The UCA was silenced for nearly a decade. What changed everything was the student explosion. The students pulled the president out of his accommodation bubble”.
“You have to remember that the current president (José Idiáqiuez), shortly after taking the post (2014), declared in La Prensa that they [student leaders] would not take the role that corresponded to politicians, and that the universities (the UCA, at least) would no longer be the general barracks of the ideological or political struggle”, remembered Malespín.
So, according to the former professor of that university, the honeymoon ended in 2018 “when the Jesuits saw the face of the monster in front of the UCA, attacking and killing people. May 30, 2018 is the watershed date that marks the end of that harmonious relationship between the UCA and Daniel Ortega.”
7 actions that turned the UCA into the principal bastion of protest against the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo
From its corridors came the first students who went to Camino de Oriente to protest on April 18, the first ones to be attacked and persecuted by the Orteguista police and mobs, and the UCA opened its gates to protect them.
The now destroyed principal access to the UCA served as an altar on April 27, 2018 to render public homage to the journalist, Ángel Gahona, murdered on April 20 of that year while he covered the protests in Bluefields. Since then, the UCA has honored the victims of the Orteguista repression.
From May 2018 to now the UCA has issued different press releases and other types of communications strongly and clearly condemning the repression on national and international levels, advocating for dialogue, defending democracy and protecting their students and teaching and administrative staff.
On May 30, 2018 the UCA opened its doors to protect the more than 5,000 demonstrators who sought refuge in the campus, after para police, police and mobs of the regime massacred by gunshot the March of the Mothers. The merciful action, and then the international denouncement of this crime, earned the president and Jesuit priest José Alberto Idiáquez death threats.
The denouncements and condemnations of the authorities of the UCA, and the protests of their students, netted the university a large budget cut of their part of the 6%. The voices of the Orteguista UNEN have been shouting since then to expel the UCA from the public budget.
The UCA is the only Nicaraguan university that has promoted works to keep alive the recent memory of the 2018 massacre so far, through different cultural events like the exposition of images of the repression and this year, the museum of the memory against impunity.
The UCA is the only university and Nicaraguan institution that keeps alive the peaceful protest actions inside and outside its campus, in spite of the overwhelming intimidation campaign against it. According to the tally of the student movement of that university, just this year 157 protest actions have been carried out: marches, proclamations, sit-ins, balloon releases, activist campaigns on social networks, paintings and other activities of rebellion.