The University is Shaped by the Revolution
Rector César Jérez, S.J., Central American University (UCA), Inaugural Address 1990 Session March 14,1990
I do not think it is pretentious to say that this inaugural address is awaited by a good part of the university community, precisely because we are in a period of national uncertainty. It would he pretentious to believe that it will give the definitive word on each and all of the important facets of national life.
On November 16, 1989, two days short of four months ago, in this same place and at almost the same time, we were celebrating the Eucharist with the university community and friends of the Society of Jesus in memory of the two women and six Jesuits assassinated that morning in the UCA of San Salvador, El Salvador. They were assassinated not by death squads or by the revolutionary Left, but by the Salvadoran army itself.
The Jesuits were intellectuals, academics, untiring fighters for peace and justice in El Salvador. They carried out their work from the UCA in San Salvador, sister university of the UCA in Managua. While dissidents of socialist regimes under the Soviet sphere of influence, like Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel, were recognized as heroes of democracy, Ignacio Ellacuría and his compañeros, dissidents of a regime in the USsphere of influence, were massacred as subversives of democracy. I evoke this sad deed because it will give us the framework with which to interpret more clearly some of the statements I will be making later.
This inaugural address comes on the heels of an electoral process and almost on the eve of a new presidential period. The election results were a general surprise and have left us all disconcerted...
After the results were known, a multitude of ex eventu prophets appeared, telling us they had predicted such an outcome. We have to humbly confess that we were wrong. A thousand interpretations arise when we ask ourselves why this result occurred; trying to synthesize, I think they can be reduced to the following:
1. For the moment, the policy of aggression of the last two US Republican administrations has borne fruit. This aggression has been multiple: armed, economic, commercial, financial, diplomatic, ideological. To me, this is the fundamental explanation, but it may still seem a bit general.
2. Trying to be more concrete: For ten years this aggression has severely battered the heart and the stomach of the majority of the population. It struck the heart—life, youth, mothers; facing death, we all desired peace. The election represents a vote for peace and en end to war; for the majority, the opposition could more easily open the window to peace because, in some way, it meant reconciliation with the US government, which is capable of impeding peace. The war generated an immeasurable economic crisis and produced hunger and poverty. It is true that there is a strong feeling among the Nicaraguan people of dignity regained, but also, after eight years of war, the majority has told us that dignity doesn’t satisfy hunger. Perhaps this is because hunger and dignity are inseparable except in heroes. The primary basis of dignity for the head of a family and for every human adult is to be able to bring sustenance to the table of one’s kin.
3. Some of the administrative errors and arrogant attitudes of Sandinista cadres, generally not of the high-level leadership, provoked a punishment vote. The majority of the people protested those errors when they saw they had the power of a secret vote; they decided to use that power.
Everything seems to indicate that the people themselves, who in the majority voted for the opposition, were surprised and frightened by the results.
The party in power has taught an enormous lesson in democracy, nobly accepting the results and preparing to exercise a dignified opposition consistent with its commitment to the people. President Ortega and the government, having conducted free elections and having respected and obeyed the popular will expressed by the majority, have made an enormous contribution to the history of Nicaragua and of revolutionary movements. Until now there has never been a revolutionary force that, having won power for the people with arms, handed over the government in a popular vote.
The UCA's plans“The Central American University supports profound social transformations; given its nature, this support should be given in a manner befitting a university: through contributions to pedagogy, through research, and through social projection of the University; by being a critical and creative conscience in the transformation process; and by preserving the cultural values of Nicaraguan society. Being an autonomous university of Christian inspiration, directed by the Society of Jesus, we endeavor to carry out these tasks based on the national reality and Christian values, particularly on what the Latin American Church has called “the preferential option for the poor.”*
*UCA Statutes, No. 3, Managua, Nicaragua 1985.
In our conception, this third world university should pledge itself to the context in which it lives. It should come down, or perhaps rise, to reality, a third world reality of growing impoverishment that cries out to heaven and sinks its people to subhuman levels. An impoverished society does not, by virtue of its poverty, cease to possess enormous riches and greater cultural potential.
At the same time, the UCA, being a university of Christian inspiration and directed by the Society of Jesus, seeks to carry out its work from very concrete, not abstract, Christian values formulated as “a fundamental option for the poor” in the crucial struggle of our time, in the service of faith and the struggle for justice that same faith demands.”*
*Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops, Puebla, February-March, 1979. Thirty-second General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Rome, 12/2/74.317175, Decrees 2 and 4.
I’d like to make a modest note to what I am saying: the university plays an important role, but in third world reality there are other entities that also play an important role, and it seems legitimate to me to ask: to what extent is the university shaped by the revolution or the revolution shaped by the university? If we make that our platform for social change, I think the university is shaped by the revolution. If not, it could remain very isolated from real life. Constructing that vehicle for change is not an easy task, it demands rigor, dedication, years of perseverance, and above all work, a lot of work, which is the only source of life for human beings and, for this reason, the only source of intellectual and professional life.
Current tasks of the country and the UCA’s simple contributionThe people of Nicaragua want peace; these ten years of revolution have been a continual and certainly delicate struggle for peace. But peace comes through reconciliation and, if by reconciliation we mean finding agreement between disunited energies and interests, it is not an easy task. In addition, if the UCA is partial to the impoverished, at the hour of reconciliation we must be more inclined toward the interests of the poor, who are even more impoverished by the war. In our analysis, we must determine which are these popular interests and defend them at all costs.
The logical and intelligent solution to the country's current dilemma is to reconcile interests in order to achieve peace, not to entangle ourselves in a third war, after the war of insurrection and the war imposed by the United States on the Nicaraguan people.
This people has voted for peace and does not deserve the scourge of another war. If we enter a peaceful phase, we will also be able to think about overcoming the economic crisis through just development. For this end, it is important to unite the Nicaraguan will to conserve the revolution’s legitimate gains and, circumstances permitting, even deepen them creatively.
Political negotiation is difficult and, in this case, does not depend only on internal factors; we must affirm national sovereignty and self-determination in response to an intervention by external forces.
The fateful fact of the war has left many dead among us, has left the social wound of thousands of disabled Nicaraguans, has left the hate and anguish of retaliation and vengeance. In this sad context, reconciliation is asked of us. This is a demand of peace, of survival and, in many cases, should be the fruit of Christian inspiration.
UCA’S current demandsIn these difficult moments, the UCA’s demands should be clear and just, precisely to better serve Nicaragua. I don’t think it makes sense to make an enormous list of demands that in the end could be diffused. These are our demands to the new administration that will take office on April 25.
1. For ten years, almost all of them with huge economic limitations, the UCA has been tuition-free; we will fight to keep it free. We don’t want to return to an elitist university, patrimony of a privileged few. The resources of those who can pay cannot determine entrance to the UCA. Our preferential option for the poor demands that we maintain the achievement of free higher education in this university: this legitimate revolutionary conquest must be maintained and all the university sectors should be united to maintain it.
2. We will strive to make advances in pedagogy and research, despite the limitations, knowing that we must prepare the cadres who will operate the nerve centers of national life. Here our work should be collective and unified. Scientific rigor cannot be left aside; it must continually be improved. Our social, political, cultural and economic analysis should have national reality as its principal focus in order to transform that reality to benefit all Nicaraguans, preferentially in favor of the most dispossessed. We remember the great vision of one of the UCA’s martyrs in El Salvador, Ignacio Ellacuría: “The principal subject of university study should be the national reality.”
3. Our role in social projection and as the critical and creative conscience should be revitalized. The works carried out to benefit the poor by different schools, faculties, institutes, the peasant university, the war disabled program, the popular legal service, the psychological clinic cannot be paralyzed. For ten years, we have tried to make our contribution: critical support for the profound social changes that have taken place in Nicaragua. In the years to come, this work must be maintained, always putting the country’s common good above individual interests. Our concerns are: housing for the poor; health care for the many, not the few; credit for the peasants; the preservation of national sovereignty; the rights of the indigenous peoples; human rights, especially of women and children. The UCA can contribute in almost all of these areas, if it is truly scientifically rooted in the national reality.
4. The university’s professors, administrators and workers have had to survive on hunger salaries. We should favor the dignity of work, remunerating in with a dignified salary. John Paul II, in his letter on “The dignity of human work,” wrote in 1981 that “the justice of any socioeconomic system and... its functioning must be judged according to the way in which human work is remunerated.”* The same criteria should prevail for justice in a university and in the university system in which it is framed.
*His Holiness John Paul II, Encyclical Laborem Excercens, No. 19, Rome 1981.
At this time, we could foresee a flow of professors, administrators and workers to the university; you can be sure that currently occupied positions will be respected and preserved. To put it simply and avoid any confusion: your positions are guaranteed. I have already mentioned that we also don’t want any student, many of whom in poverty have tried to be as studious as possible, to have to stop studying for economic reasons that depend on this university.
5. In spite of the infinite economic difficulties that we have faced, the UCA, little by little, has been able to provide a simple but dignified physical structure. To adequately develop academic life, there must be harmony of learning, knowing and investigating with a dignified physical environment. We don’t want a luxurious university; we want a university of the Third World for the Third World. It is the obligation of all of us to take care of this social property.
ConclusionI have already said that our options are clearly in favor of faith, justice and the poor. This, for us, is a conviction made flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood. This is not a pretty phrase or a pious slogan. I opened this address evoking the death of our six Jesuit compañeros and the two women who worked for them—at the hands of the Salvadoran Army. They gave their lives for these convictions, for having been partial to the poor and oppressed. This is not a new story. In recent years, we have given lives for these values in Guatemala, El Salvador and other third world countries. I don’t see why the Society of Jesus won’t have the same capacity to give lives for these values in Nicaragua.
This is the will of the Society of Jesus in Rome, in Central America, in Nicaragua and in any part of the world where we work. When we find an indisputable coherence between words and deeds, when we are willing to he martyrs to defend principles, I believe we deserve credibility, at least in the eyes of those who work and study in an institution like the UCA. Faithful to following Christ and knowing we are weak, we are convinced that “the greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them” (John 15:13). Our friends are the poor; with them we have drawn our lot; and for this, in spite of much criticism, we give our critical support to the revolution. On this point, we agree.
Necrophilia does not inspire us; it is faith in "God and love of God and brother and sister that gives us strength. Love is stronger than death and is the seed of liberation.”
There is nothing easy about the challenges we have ahead, but if unity and trust exist among us, we will have the capacity to overcome future difficulties. We hope we can overcome them in the context of a just, correct and reasonable law of university autonomy.
To close I’d like to announce that, taking into account the leadership role that President Ortega has played in the nation’s democratic process, which we hope will continue, the Board of Directors of the UCA is taking the necessary steps to grant him an honorary degree for his role as President, for his contribution to peace and democracy. For a short time, he was a student of the UCA, and the university would like to recognize his merits, not upon his ascent to power but upon his descent from that power.