INTERVIEW WITH A NICARAGUAN STUDENT
Can you tell us briefly what the 6% campaign is all about?
A few months ago at a summit of Central American presidents it was stated that
subsidising university education was a luxury that these countries could ill
The education ministry in Nicaragua says that priority must be given to primary
education. I think the Nicaraguan government's policy here is clear enough and,
for sure, very similar to that of many Central American governments and I
is related to the question of the international division of labour. Education in
Nicaragua is being focused on the primary levels, further education will become
more technical as demanded by the Nicaraguan economic system and the
prevaling policies of neoliberal economics.
There is no lack of professionals only workers and technicians. A
education will only be available to those who can afford it and this in turn
ensure that the intellectual elite will always come from the same families. Now
according to the constitution the government has to give certain universities,
mainly in the public sector, 6% of the republican budget. The government has
not respected this and has cut the figure to 4.2%. The campaign for 6% has as
its objective to force the government to guarantee that these universities
have to charge for courses nor reduce grants.
Given the situation what has been the reaction of the students?
Since the 18th October last year there have been many protest marches to put
pressure on the government to pay what it owes in order to make up for previous
years when it didn't pay the full 6% and then to ensure it pays up this
by little largely because of disorganisation caused by the student leaders these
marches lost their popularity.
Then, in December, people started to realise the urgency of the problem and
the rectors along with all the affected universities pledged their support.
was a non-violent demonstration on the 13th December 1995 which was attended
by students, profesors and other university staff. This was the day of the
Can you give us details of what happened on the 13th December? How much
coverage was given in the press and on the television?
The march went to the National Assembly and during the morning the marchers
were surrounded by anti-riot police. Some of the university students brought
eggs to throw at the police.
When the group I was with arrived at the Assembly already there were many
students there and to the East side of the Assembly one could see scuffles with
the police, one minute after we had arrived the atmosphere was tense. Students
began to throw eggs and at that same moment from another side of the
Assembly students began to throw stones and small rocks. Immediately the
police responded with tear gas.
There is a community which lives in extreme poverty a few metres from the
Assembly hall and these people were the most affected. We students ran across
this quarter fleeing the gas and people were coming out of their homes to get
their children and , by bad luck, the wind was blowing towards this community
(to the West). Then these people began supplying the students with stones so
that they could defend themselves.
Those students in the other sector were less affected by the gas and were also
defending themselves with stones. There were many stones and some cops were
injured too. All the students began making their way to this sector and after a
little we heared gufire. 'They are firing in the air! They are firing in the
students shouted trying to calm others down. We all hoped it was true but
shortly afterwards we saw the first person who was wounded. We started to fall
back - some of us were running and the police came after us for almost half a
kilometer. They carried on firing and after half a kilometer they killed a
Some hours later in the afternoon we got back to the university after
go a long way round because of the police presense.
The radio reported the events and there were some television reports that
The next day it was headline news in some newspapers.
Porfirio Ramos died that day and Jeronimo Urbina died a few days later in
hospital. Bismark Santana lost a leg and more than sixty wounded are still
Fernando Caldera; Pedro Aguilar; and Manuel Lezama, General Director of the
National Police; Chief of the Managua Police Department and Chief of the illegal
Antiriot Unit respectively did nothing to prevent the massacre and claim
no responsibility for what happened.
What was the students reaction to all of this? Has the campaign been scared off?
There have been many marches and ecumenical activities. There have also been
delegations to other areas of the country and visits to the poorer people
the East and West of Managua. The last march went once again to the National
Assembly and one local newspaper calculated that there were 20,000 students.
Also 'brigades' have formed like the muralists which is a group of people who
are making banners and graffiti for the marches and the streets in general. Also
there is a media 'brigade' which has taken on the job of dealing with the media.
There are other groups who have come together spontaneously to keep up the
pressure for the 6%.
Tell us some more about these groups?
They are co-ordinated between all the universities and even if the official
structures are always hierarchical there are of course other forms of
I can speak mainly of those structures that can be found at the UCA
(Universidad Centroamericana) where I am a student. Here there is a 'brigade'
which was originally called the 'shock' brigade which tried to gain control
student body. Not all but certainly many of them tried to abuse their power or
tried to manipulate students which is always the case when such structures
up. The merit of these organisations was their spontaneous appearance during
the campaign but the students have also organised themselves in semi-official
ways with more horizontal relationships which evade the 'shock' brigades
control. It is strange but one of the last decisions of the 'shock' brigade
exam boycott whereas the majority of the students wanted to sit them. People
looked for other forms of protest, organised in small groups and sat their
What has been the role of TELCOR (the telecommunications company) in all of
this? Is it true that the employees have supported the students? Can you give us
details and tell us about the company's reaction?
The workers at TELCOR were on strike a few months ago as a protest against
the privatisation of this company. During this period it was said that there
be 1,700 redundancies. One group of students 'took' TELCOR because they
thought this a good way of showing solidarity with the workers and a way of
putting pressure on the government. There was no damage and the interviews
with the employees demonstrated their solidarity with the students.
How do you think the campaign will now develop? Will the student struggle
continue through the election period in Nicaragua?
There are many rumours relating to the forthcoming visit of the Pope. It is
thought there might be a deal with the governement so that the campaign can be
put on ice and not prejudice the visit. I can't say for sure that the
students will go
as far as the election period but I do feel it will go on for a while. I
think that if
the campaign continues that far it must retain its independence and not allow a
political party to hijack the 6% banner in its own interests. I'm trying to
say that it
will perhaps be hard for the students to keep control of the campaign without it
coming under the control of interested parties.