Most of the news coming out of Washington, D.C. right now is negative and chaotic. We are witness to intraparty implosions and partisan disagreement. We read about disfunction that has stalled the passage of appropriations bills: must-pass legislation that keeps the government up and running. While this sad state is a reality on Capitol Hill, it is not the only one. What you don’t often hear about is the behind-the-scenes work, where Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate work together to advance important initiatives across the aisle.
AJCU is proud to have lent a hand on one such recent effort. On Friday, October 13, U.S. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) and colleagues sent a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the U.S. Secretary of State expressing “deep concern regarding the Nicaraguan government’s seizure of the Managua campus of the Jesuit-run Universidad Centroamericana” (UCA), with suggestions for actions the Biden Administration should take in response. Shortly after the seizure in August, all academic activity was suspended on campus and the legal status of the Jesuits in Nicaragua was removed.
This letter from Congress calls out the Nicaraguan government’s repression against the Church, civil society, and social institutions. It characterizes the closure of the UCA as “a grave blow to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in that country.” This letter was the result of deep engagement from Rep. McGovern’s staff on the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and from the Jesuit community, including AJCU, whose staff worked together and tirelessly to ensure that Members of Congress were aware of the issue and alerted about this joint letter. AJCU reached out to more than 100 offices on Capitol Hill, both Republican and Democrat, to encourage our connected offices (alumni of Jesuit institutions and those Members of the House and Senate who represent our schools) to co-sign this powerful and direct statement to the U.S. Secretary of State. The Jesuit Conference’s Office of Justice and Ecology contacted many Congressional offices as well: their efforts ensured the letter received Republican backing in the U.S. House of Representatives. We were proud to be raising awareness together about the repression occurring in Nicaragua.
AJCU has a long history of engagement on this issue, stemming back to 2018, when protests first began in Nicaragua. On August 22nd of this year, the presidents of Jesuit colleges and universities issued a statement of solidarity with the UCA, extending support to Jesuits, faculty, staff and students who were falsely accused of violating the law. Further, AJCU called on the government to reverse its decision and end the repression. That statement is available here on the AJCU website.
Earlier this month, AJCU testified before the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States during its consideration of a resolution rejecting repressive measures by the government of Nicaragua against educational institutions and the Catholic Church. That resolution passed without objection.
These efforts have helped inform the broader national and international community about the situation in Nicaragua.
Still, there is more to be done to help the more than 2,400 displaced students who seek to continue their education at other Jesuit colleges and universities in the Americas. In coordination with the Jesuit Central & Southern Province and Seattle University, AJCU will soon support a campaign to raise awareness and funds for student financial assistance to assist the “UCA in exile” community. This effort emphasizes that “we are all members of one global Ignatian family and we stand with one another during times of severe trial.”
While the situation in Nicaragua is discouraging, the response from Congress is heartening. Working together, Senators and Representatives from both parties can have a powerful voice and advance the common good.
By Jenny Smulson, Vice President for Government Relations, AJCU