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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 275 | Junio 2004
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Nitlápan-Envío team

THE UNIVERSITY STRUGGLE FOR 6%
As has happened every year for over a decade, university students took to the streets for more than a week starting on May 16 to demand the allocation of 6% of the national budget to the public universities as established in the Constitution. The first days of the protests were especially violent, and not only in Managua, as is normally the case. On the 17th, a mortar fired by students in Jinotepe killed a deputy police officer. The education minister, who called the university rectors “assassins” and the students “terrorists,” only made things worse. He was aided and abetted by President Bolaños, in Madrid to attend the Prince’s wedding, who said that the universities “are inciting students to become killers and one of the first courses they’re taught is violence.”

The most encouraging response to the crisis was an initiative by the National Police, in which both chiefs and officers demonstrated in Managua and other cities under the slogan “for peace and not violence.” At the end of the march
in Managua, First Police Commissioner Edwin Cordero said, “We are willing to die in the defense of peace, order and security, but not opposite students, who are our children, siblings and cousins. We ask the people and you, Mr. President, to understand that we don’t want violence, we don’t want to continue dying or killing for this cause.” The students responded with an even more massive and this time fully peaceful march.

CRISIS IN K-12 EDUCATION
According to partial results from a report on Nicaraguan education presented by the UNESCO Program to Promote Educational Reform for Latin America and the Caribbean (PREAL), students in Nicaragua’s public primary schools have only the most basic knowledge of mathematics and Spanish. The study, also done in other countries, classified students according to four levels of knowledge—basic, intermediary, proficient and excellent—but in Nicaragua the last level had to be eliminated because no student reached it. The study presented the third grade results as an example, in which 61.7% of the student body did not pass a basic math test and 71.2% failed to do so in Spanish.

Another worrying element is the growing percentage of teachers without formal training and credentials among the pathetically paid national teaching staff, who earn under $100 a month. Worse yet, only four out of every ten youths between 13 and 17 years old attend school, according to the report.
The Ministry of the Family reiterated that over 800,000 boys and girls remain outside the school system every year. It also calculated that 4,000 children are sexually exploited and 7,000 are addicted to drugs in Managua alone. The country is only beginning to keep statistics on these latter issues and some believe the Ministry’s figures are too conservative.

THE US ARMY’S RESPONSE TO A NICA CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR
On May 21, the Fort Stewart military court sentenced Camilo Mejía Castillo, a 28-year-old Nicaraguan-Costa Rican whose father is well-known Nicaraguan songwriter and singer Carlos Mejía Godoy, to a year in prison, stripping him of his rank of sargeant and giving him a dishonorable discharge from the US army—in whose Reserves he had served for eight years—for refusing to go back into the war in Iraq after having participated in combat there for several months. He had reportedly been called up to fight only a few months short of finishing his tour of duty. In October 2003, after a 15-day leave in the United States, Mejía had gone into hiding until March 2004, when he turned himself in to military authorities as a conscientious objector. Pacifist and war veterans’ organizations in the United States backed Camilo, and one of his defense lawyers was none other than former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

After the military verdict on June 3, Amnesty International admitted Camilo Mejía as a “prisoner of conscience” and began pressing for his immediate release. It is the first case of this type taken up by AI.

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