This is not a moment to retreat: We must strengthen our commitment to Nicaragua

June 27, 2018

By Andy Gorvetzian

I have been working at the Central American University (UCA) as Assistant to the President Father José (Chepe) Idiáquez, SJ, since November 2016. In this capacity, I have helped coordinate exchange and research projects between my alma mater Seattle University and the UCA as part of Seattle University’s Central America Initiative while also conducting research on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. The situation in Nicaragua feels like an attack on a second home. These months have been challenging since my body is here in the USA, but my heart is in Nicaragua.

I left Nicaragua on April 13th for what was a 3-week work trip with Father Chepe. When we arrived in Seattle, it was clear that things were not looking good in Nicaragua. After a tense weekend hearing news of more protests, Father Chepe decided to return to Nicaragua just days before the government repression of those protests began on the night of April 18th outside the gates of the UCA. The UCA had irregular hours from that point until the Mother’s Day Massacre on May 30th, when snipers opened fire on thousands of peaceful marchers. Father Chepe opened the gates of the UCA to offer refuge to thousands of terrified people – turning the UCA into a field hospital. The UCA has been closed since then, and it is unclear when it will reopen. When Father Chepe’s life was threatened after the events on Mother’s Day, our work took on even more urgency, as the conflict impacted not just a partner, but also a friend.

I have not been back to Nicaragua since April 13th and I’ve had to experience all this from afar through social media, phone calls, and messages from friends on the ground. During this time, a group of us who work with the Seattle University Central America Initiative have been coordinating an advocacy and awareness campaign for the Seattle University community and within the Association of Jesuit Colleges & Universities.

When moments of crisis emerge, it is our responsibility as universities who have committed to working with partners in other countries to ensure that we leverage our resources to create awareness of the situation. This advocacy can take on many forms for many institutions; I offer a few here.

  1. Holding open civil space: At Seattle University, we have sought to raise awareness through various means that are replicable at other universities. We call this work the act of “holding open civil space” in order to keep the conversation going about the crisis as it unfolds. By holding this space open, it allows for collaboration, conversation, and solidarity to continue even as major media coverage ebbs and flows.
  2. Statements of solidarity: We have worked primarily within the Jesuit network of universities in the US to produce statements of solidarity with the UCA and the people of Nicaragua to reinforce our commitment to accompany them in this tense time. In addition, Seattle U, Boston College, and others have written statements expressing concern for the situation and solidarity with the UCA and created online webforms for the community to sign. Boston College used this letter to send to government representatives to urge them to pay attention to the situation.
  3. Teach-ins: On May 21, we organized an event at Seattle U in which we invited a Spanish professor from Nicaragua, a student who is from Nicaragua, an SU alumna and Fulbright scholar who was evacuated from Nicaragua, a law professor who has done work with the Inter-American Human Rights system, and me. These events allow for the community to learn more about the situation, show solidarity, and learn about how to advocate in their own networks. Afterwards, we held a vigil on campus to honor the victims, and created a small altar so that the wider community could see our messages. These types of events allow universities to do what we do best: educate about an issue with a critical lens using our diverse resources and highlight how global events have an impact here at home.
  4. Write articles to share in the campus community and beyond: Finally, we wrote a series of articles for our school paper (here, here, and here) and recorded a radio show, which we hope to turn into a podcast. Using these types of resources on campus can be a good way of reinforcing why it’s important for our campuses to pay attention to these events and disseminate resources throughout the community.

This conflict could end tomorrow, but the damage—economically, emotionally, psychologically, physically—will remain for years to come. As such, it becomes part of our role to think long term about how we can contribute to the rebuilding and reconciliation process once peace comes in responsible and ethical ways. This moment is not one of retreat; rather, as responsible partners, it is a moment to strengthen our commitment to the people of Nicaragua.

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