The Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) de Nicaragua, the Jesuit university in the capital city of Managua, became a refuge for defenseless protestors last night when thousands of people sought safety within the gates of the university. Gunfire erupted as hundreds of thousands of “Mother’s Day” (celebrated in Nicaragua on May 30) demonstrators were coming to the end of their march route at the UCA. The protest was led by mothers of students and peaceful demonstrators who have been killed by police and pro-government forces since the start of a nationwide political crisis on April 18.
According to a statement by the UCA issued in Spanish (see translation below) and reports from people on site at the time of the attack, campus security guards opened the outer gates as chaos ensued from the gunfire, allowing thousands of demonstrators to enter the campus around 4:30 PM local time. Volunteers assisted the injured and ambulances were summoned to take those needing additional medical care to local hospitals. Over the next few hours, the crowd dispersed. However, at around 8:30 PM, volunteers and drivers from the UCA evacuated the remaining demonstrators to other locations in the city where they would be safe.
News agencies have reported that at least three people were killed and many more were injured during the attack by para-police, which have also been described by some as shock forces, shock troops, or paramilitaries. However, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights documented 11 dead and 79 injured [CNN].
The UCA statement also asserts that the university “stands on the side of the people in their struggle for justice,” and denounces the attacks on peaceful demonstrators that have been carried out by individuals loyal to the government with impunity. They also called on Nicaragua and international bodies to stand in solidarity with the Nicaraguan people and to seek mechanisms to resolve the crisis that is “is reaching levels of massacre against the unarmed civilians.”
With just a few days of classes left when the initial violence ensued throughout the country, the UCA canceled their remaining trimester courses in mid-April, completing courses online as needed. After a three week break, the campus was scheduled to welcome students back for classes on May 21 but has since postponed the start date for nearly two weeks with no end of the suspension of classes in sight.
This is not the first time the UCA has been directly involved in the attacks on protestors and those who stand with them. In the early hours of May 27, the UCA experienced an attack by para-police. There were no casualties. In addition, on April 20, Álvaro Manuel Conrado Davila, a 15-year-old student at Instituto Loyola Conrado, a Jesuit secondary school in Managua, was shot by police with a rubber bullet that struck him at close range in the throat and died later while undergoing surgery at a local hospital.
Voices of support for the UCA are coming from across the Jesuit network in Americas. The Jesuits of Canada and the United States issued a statement of support for the Jesuits and the Nicaraguan bishops, denouncing recent violence in Nicaragua and calling for justice. From Central America, the UCA El Salvador issued a statement showing support for all Nicaraguan people particularly students seeking democracy, liberty, and opportunity.