More than 1,600 UCA students have applied to Jesuit universities in Central America

Andreu Oliva, rector of the Central American University (UCA) in El Salvador: "It is difficult to respond quickly; maybe we can start early next year"

Jesuit priest Andreu Oliva, rector of the UCA in El Salvador. Photo:

29 de agosto 2023


Within one week of the confiscation of the Central American University (UCA) by the Ortega-Murillo regime, more than 1,600 UCA students applied to the Jesuit universities UCA Simeón Cañas of El Salvador and Universidad Rafael Landívar of Guatemala, hoping to continue their studies in a school that's part of AUSJAL, the network of 30 Jesuit universities in Latin America.  

Faced with the avalanche of applications, the rector of the UCA of El Salvador, engineer Andreu Oliva, explains that they are "classifying them and asking for individual data from all the students," but warns that "there are difficulties to respond quickly." Among other challenges, Oliva alludes to the differences in higher education regulations between Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, and the fact that these universities do not have fully virtual study programs, but are rather at least partially in-person. In addition, Oliva, who is also vice-president of AUSJAL, says that courses have already begun in both Jesuit universities and "it's possible we won't be able to respond and begin to work on this until early next year."

In an interview with CONFIDENCIAL and Esta Semana, the rector of the UCA of El Salvador talks about "the intangible value" represented by the educational heritage of the confiscated UCA of Nicaragua, and about the international actions that the Society of Jesus is evaluating to approach the international courts of justice.

Eleven Jesuit priests and clergy remain in Nicaragua, Oliva says. They are working in a situation of uncertainty in the Centromérica, Loyola and Fe y Alegria schools. 

An unjust confiscation

How has the UCA of El Salvador, and the Jesuit universities of Latin America, experienced the confiscation of the UCA of Nicaragua by the Ortega regime? 

With much sorrow and indignation because of the ties we have, especially among the Jesuit universities of Central America –the UCA of Nicaragua, the UCA of El Salvador and the Rafael Landívar University [Guatemala]. We are three universities that have been working together for many years, trying to respond to the desire of the founders to be a Central American university, working together to educate and advance the Central American people.

Is there any precedent for this confiscation? Has this ever happened to another Jesuit university in Latin America? 

I don't have knowledge of anything like this in current times. We might have to go back to the 17th century when the Society of Jesus was suspended. They had to leave several countries in Latin America and then Europe. And at that time, their properties and apostolic works were also confiscated.

The intangible value of the UCA

The Superior General and the Provincial of the Jesuits have rejected the judicial accusation of terrorism made against the UCA, and point out that it has not been allowed any right to defense in Nicaragua. To what do you attribute the confiscation? 

The confiscation is due to the work the university has done throughout its history, and especially to its positioning starting in April 2018 in Nicaragua, where the university stood side by side with the young people who demonstrated in protest around social security and the pension system, for the environment and against the destruction of the Indio Maíz reserve. And then with the repression the students suffered in the face of these protests, the university stood with them and pointed out the human rights violations committed by the Nicaraguan government. It also promotes academic training with a critical spirit, with scientific rigor, and this is proving to be annoying for the Nicaraguan regime. In addition, the UCA has a strong presence in Nicaragua because it has worked and continues to work for the advancement of education, as well as of the peasant and micro-entrepreneurial sectors. It also works for scientific advancement in Nicaragua, which can only be done in an environment of independence and freedom.

The statement by the Jesuit Provincial of Central America states that the confiscation of the UCA is part of the context of crimes against humanity and totalitarianism in the country. Is there any awareness of this situation in Central America? 

There is little awareness of what is happening in Nicaragua. Unfortunately it's not well known. It is very important to let the world know what is happening. And from that perspective I think it is fundamental the work you are doing, the different media, especially through social media, to bring to light how the democratic system and the rule of law have been destroyed, human rights are being violated, crimes against humanity are being committed, properties are being confiscated and people don't have the right to a defense or to a fair trial. All this is unacceptable and should be widely known internationally. 

The illegal confiscation of the UCA has left more than 5,000 students and more than 500 professors in uncertainty. There is also an expropriation, a loss of the UCA's educational heritage, infrastructure, land, buildings, specialized centers… Has the true value of this illegally confiscated heritage been assessed? 

The monetary value is incalculable because, above all, it is an intangible value: all the knowledge accumulated during 63 years of university education in Nicaragua. But also, the experience and the work that has been done over the years to build a prestigious university with academic excellence, a well-equipped university. There is an enormous cultural heritage that is possibly going to be lost. 

Let's talk about the Nicaraguan and Central American Historical Institute, with all the collections it has and the important historical material it has been preserving throughout all these years. But also the Social Sciences Research Institute, the National Herbarium, the animal center, ecology, the study of the sun and solar energy in Nicaragua, all aspects that have immense value and that cannot be assessed in monetary terms. 

UCA students apply to El Salvador and Guatemala

The UCA of El Salvador and the Rafael Landívar University of Guatemala have announced that they are open to host students from the confiscated UCA of Nicaragua. What do students have to do to apply? What are the requirements they have to meet? 

We have received a huge amount of applications, more than 1,600. Our first task was to classify them. We have asked each student to give us more data about their situation, so we can see if we can help them.

The situation isn't easy, because unfortunately in Central America, although integration has advanced in some aspects, it has not advanced in the higher education system and each country has different regulations.

The students of the confiscated UCA are going to have to be without classes for at least month, because the new state university –which first said it would be free, now it says it will be self-financed, then it says it will not–, but they will not start classes for another month. What capacity would you have to absorb students in the face of these thousands of requests? 

It is difficult to deal with all this quickly. We are doing our best, but we certainly could not do this immediately. Courses have already begun at both universities and we may not be able to respond and start doing work until early next year [2024]. And that is unfortunate, because one of the serious effects of the confiscation is that these students are being deprived of their right to study. People who were already very close to finishing their study programs, even some had already completed everything and now don't know what is going to happen with their university degree.This is one of the issues that most concerns us and that should be denounced at the international level, so that the government of Nicaragua can reverse this measure for the benefit of these thousands of students.

Returning to the situation of the Jesuit community in Nicaragua, Father Tojeira said that there are at least eleven Jesuits and clergy at the Colegio Centro America, Loyola and Fe y Alegría. Is there any risk that they could be detained or expelled? 

We never know what risks there may be. Their situation is normal, each one is working in their activities, with all the disposition to continue supporting the Nicaraguan youth, those who are dedicated to education, and their other projects to help vulnerable communities or people who are ill. And we are working with all the generosity that we have always wanted to demonstrate in our apostolic dedication to the people of Nicaragua. 

What is your assessment of the reaction to the confiscation of the UCA from the international community? Not only from the Jesuit universities but also from the public universities of Latin America and from different governments? 

I think it's very positive. It is a position, first of all, of solidarity with the Central American University in Nicaragua, but also of denunciation against what the Nicaraguan government has done through the Judiciary. There is a great variety of institutions and organizations speaking out.

And the reaction of the Central American governments?

It is unfortunate. I believe that each of the Central American governments at this time has its own problems and is trying to avoid the interference of the international community. That takes away their freedom to make public statements in the face of these events and in the face of what is happening in Nicaragua since April 2018. This is very unfortunate and shows us that we are in a different era from that of the last decade of the 20th century when, thanks to the collaboration among the governments of Central America and with friendly nations, it was possible to move towards peace in Central America.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.

Carlos F. Chamorro

Periodista nicaragüense, exiliado en Costa Rica. Fundador y director de Confidencial y Esta Semana. Miembro del Consejo Rector de la Fundación Gabo. Ha sido Knight Fellow en la Universidad de Stanford (1997-1998) y profesor visitante en la Maestría de Periodismo de la Universidad de Berkeley, California (1998-1999). En mayo 2009, obtuvo el Premio a la Libertad de Expresión en Iberoamérica, de Casa América Cataluña (España). En octubre de 2010 recibió el Premio Maria Moors Cabot de la Escuela de Periodismo de la Universidad de Columbia en Nueva York. En 2021 obtuvo el Premio Ortega y Gasset por su trayectoria periodística.


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