With its closure, more than a name is lost. Attached to its acronym –UCA– leaves a fragment of the history of Nicaraguaa tradition of critical thinking that since the Revolution has inspired thousands of students to say: “First of all I am Nicaraguan and, for my country, I am going to fight.”
In mid-August, when President Daniel Ortega delivered the coup de grace to the Central American University (UCA) —founded by Jesuits in 1960 and perhaps the educational institution that had most rigorously confronted repression in Nicaragua—, the justification was dressed in the usual expressions: It is a center of terrorism. He betrayed the trust of the people. He transgressed the constitutional order.
The first thing was to confiscate their property and money. Afterwards he suspended his activities. He later informed that another university called Casimiro Sotelo Montenegro would function in its place, like a guerrilla who died in the 1960s.
Many perceive the decision as a reprisal against the Catholic religious who have sided with the people and not Ortega’s: days after the closure on August 16, it was reported that the Society of Jesus would lose its legal status and its assets would go to hands of the state.
There is a lot behind this university that until before its closure educated about 8,000 students. Memories of how he drenched in social conscience. Affection towards the comrades with whom a better Nicaragua was dreamed of. Priests and teachers who provided shelter in times of protests. Newspapers in a library. Poetry. A country.
These are four first-person accounts of exiled Nicaraguans who give an account of their history.
Daisy Zamora, poet and student in 1967
I entered university in ’67 and it was like landing in a different dimension. There was great political ferment.
I began to find out about a world that was much more complex and vast than the one I knew. I already had a social vocation, but at the UCA it expanded to the point of involving me in an organization of the Sandinista Front.
The Jesuits were very open to students expressing themselves politically. The UCA was a seedbed where we were developing resistance actions against the dictatorship. We planned demonstrations, taking over churches, even the Cathedral. It was like a small republic where we exercised democracy.
In 1968 there was a student —David Tejada Peralta— who was brutally murdered and it was said that to make his body disappear they threw it into the crater of a volcano. I wrote my first political poem out of that. Is called “Song of Hope”.
Somoza never dared to close the UCA or the National University. It’s not that students weren’t killed, but the campus was sacred. There one could take refuge at any time.
The revolution cannot be explained without the universities, including the UCA. That’s when I understood how serious the situation was. I understood that I had a commitment to fight with my country.
I remember that time with a golden patina, with a lot of nostalgia.
Juan Diego Barberena, lawyer and student in 2014
The UCA was the only independent think tank left in the country. Its closure responds to the position it took in 2018 to be on the side of justice, of the people who were suffering repression and demanding substantial changes.
Almost 70% of the student body received a scholarship and the majority came from marginal sectors. I studied with a scholarship, I had classmates who came from places that were 200 kilometers from Managua.
Canceling the UCA does not only affect the Society of Jesus, but countless Nicaraguan families who hoped to lift their children out of poverty.
At the UCA we were clear that we could not learn if something was not happening outside the classroom. We analyzed the national reality and, if for that we had to leave the topic of the class to address what the citizenry was suffering and what our society needed to get out of authoritarianism, we did it.
I remember that in 2015 a colleague and I decided to go to a protest in front of the Supreme Electoral Council to demand transparent elections. They repressed us, they beat us.
We went back to college and a “teacher” He told us: guys, go file a complaint with the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and, if you need advice, count on me.
They were very clear teachers of the reality that Nicaragua was experiencing, with a lot of awareness and solidarity. At that time solidarity was very scarce. Much of society preferred not to see what was happening or was a bit afraid.
Ernesto Medina, former rector of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua
I come from the competition: I studied at the National University in León. I lived the experience of the UCA because there was a certain love-hate relationship with the UCA.
There are those who say that the UCA was founded by big capital to counteract the leftist influence that the National University had, but I think that this had remained in the past. There was little room for proposition.
The UCA comes up with a fresh proposal at a time when the same dictatorship wanted to get rid of the legacy of its founder, assassinated in 1956.
Aware that his father’s negative burden did not help him, Somoza opened a certain space for different opinions to arise and the Jesuits took advantage of it to found the UCA.
The 1970s were decisive years for Nicaragua, especially after the 1972 earthquake, when the internal contradictions of society were evident: poverty, corruption. And the third of the Somoza dynasty was already in power, a military man who began to close spaces.
Attempts to develop guerrilla groups in the mountains were crushed by the army. Then the Sandinista Front begins to modify its strategy: it makes an urban guerrilla and tries to influence different social sectors.
The UCA plays a very important role there, because there is a generation of boys influenced by the Jesuits of that time, like Fernando Cardenal.
What mobilized the majority of the Nicaraguan population was that combination of Christian ideas that were highly committed to the people and very heterogeneous revolutionary ideas that in the end ended up prevailing.
At the National University I was part of a Christian movement. We were more churchgoers than our colleagues from the UCA. I remember a retreat organized on a coffee farm. When we arrived, we were surprised.
We said: “What time do we say the rosary?” And they arrived with the revolution. For me it was a first confrontation with another way of seeing our Christianity. That marked me.
I had social concerns, but they were the traditional ones that Catholic schools instilled in us: we would go to a poor neighborhood to distribute food, clothes, talk to people… On the other hand, the compañeros from Managua made serious questions about the dictatorship and the need of a profound social transformation.
In León, we had to question ourselves and we changed our name: we were “Christian Movement” and we become “The Maccabees” The guerrillas, then, and we ended up committed to the Revolution.
María Gómez, journalist and student in 2014
When I heard about the UCA I was 11 years old and I said: “I want to come out of the best university, from which the best journalists came out.”
I studied Social Communication from 2014 to 2017. They told me the “bookworm” because I spent my breaks in the library reading ’80s newspapers. We couldn’t always buy books, but the staff knew us and allowed us to take more books than we could.
In 2018, protests began over the Indio Maíz reserve. It was burning and the regime did nothing. At the UCA we organized ourselves and went out to protest.
We felt safe because the teachers didn’t interfere, but they gave us the freedom to create banners, to meet, and they even protected us. When the police began to attack the demonstrators, they opened the gates for us and we were able to enter. They not only attacked us with blows; They attacked to kill.
There were professors who gave me classes —Jesuits— who approached the refugees in the cathedral and other universities to pray, to bless us and they told us: “You are the future of this country; Do not be discouraged. The population is supporting them and we support them”.
When I found out about the closure, I started crying. The first thing I said was: “The newspapers I read!” I destroyed myself, I fell, I felt cold. I have spoken with other ex-colleagues and we have all cried.
For me it was the only university where students were taught how to develop their criteria, where it was respected if you belonged to one movement or another. It was the only one that had that autonomy of a chair and, by losing that, we lose everything.
Ricardo is a renowned author and journalist, known for his exceptional writing on top-news stories. He currently works as a writer at the 247 News Agency, where he is known for his ability to deliver breaking news and insightful analysis on the most pressing issues of the day.