Jesuits carry on legacy of non-violence
By Robin Happel
This Tuesday, Father McShane issued a campus-wide condemnation of threats made against faculty at the University of Central America, a Jesuit sister school of Fordham. Combined with the university’s recent statement on the March for Our Lives movement, such praise for student protestors is also perhaps a tentative step toward loosening restrictions on peaceful demonstrations at Fordham, although this remains to be seen.
Beginning as an austerity crisis and rapidly spiraling into a mass demonstration against the Ortega regime, the current situation in Nicaragua bears striking similarities to the unrest in El Salvador that claimed the lives of six Jesuit educators in the late 80’s. Then, as now, those in power saw peaceful protests as a threat, and targeted students and professors. Currently, UCA’s rector, José Alberto Idiáquez, S.J. is facing death threats from the Nicaraguan government. Already, dozens of peaceful protestors have been killed by police since mid-April, including one 15-year-old Jesuit High School student, and UCA’s campus was recently attacked by masked men linked to Ortega.
President Daniel Ortega first came to power with the ousting of dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. His once-populist Sandinista platform has become increasingly authoritarian, especially after his re-election in 2006. In 2014, Ortega abolished term limits for the presidency, and gave presidential decrees the force of law. Drawing condemnation from Human Rights Watch, the the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and Pope Francis, Ortega has been long been accused of corruption and cracking down on dissent. The recent killing of journalist Angel Gahona provoked international outcry, and candlelit vigils continue throughout the capital city.
Although such struggles may seem far distant from us, the United States is arguably responsible for much of Nicaragua’s current unrest. The Sandinista movement that ultimately brought Ortega into power traced its roots to resisting U.S. occupation. As recently as the Reagan administration, the C.I.A. used explosives against Nicaraguan civilians, and funneled drug money to violent opposition groups. The U.S.-funded Contras’ campaign of violence against civilians destabilized Nicaragua for decades to come. Although Iran-Contra at the time was internationally condemned, Oliver North is now once again celebrated by the political right, and it appears that we have learned little from our past meddling.
In the words of former Fordham faculty member Daniel Berrigan, S.J, we all “have a responsibility to confront the war games – the American killing machine.” Both in the legacy of Berrigan – the famed pacifist who once burned draft records with homemade napalm – and its ties to UCA, Fordham has a responsibility to continue to speak out. It is up to all of us to support our fellow students in Nicaragua, as well as our neighbors who are Central American refugees. In an age of both saber-rattling and paradoxical isolationism, it is vital that we not turn away.