Nicaragua: Keys to Understanding Confiscation of the UCA

Protest held at the Central American University in 2018.

The dictatorship accuses the university of “terrorism,” but the persecution and threats against it began in 2018. This is what you should know.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – In the past seven days, the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo has carried out one of its worst attacks, this time against the University of Central America (UCA). It began with the freezing of the university’s bank accounts, and on August 16, the dictatorship’s courts officially accused the higher education center of “terrorism,” and moved to confiscate the campus and all installations. The UCA has announced the official suspension of all their activities.

The persecution against the UCA began in 2018, following the participation of its students in the protests against the dictatorship. All the regime’s subsequent actions are seen as reprisals against a university that promotes critical thinking in Nicaragua.

These are some keys to understand what’s happening.

The role of the UCA in 2018

The repression against the prestigious Jesuit-run center of higher education began on April 12, 2018. That day, a group of young people, the majority of them students at the UCA, informally organized a group in front of the university to protest the lack of a government response to the wildfire that was raging in the IndioMaiz Biological Reserve.

Another serious issue was then added to the environmental tragedy of Indio-Maiz: the Ortega regime dictated a “reform” to social security, that among other things involved a cutback to the very small pensions the elderly received. That day, the UCA became one of the reference points of the larger anti-government protests that erupted. Later, when the demonstrations were attacked by police and paramilitary under Ortega’s command, the UCAs closed campus served as a refuge. Massive demonstrations followed over the next several months, during which over 300 protesters were killed, many by sniper bullets to the head and throat.

Over the following months, the dictatorship’s shock forces succeeded in quashing the street protests, but the UCA campus, as a private space, became the last safe place for the youth to express their opposition to the regime’s actions.

Threats and exile of the university leaders

The repression and persecution of the Jesuit University began shortly after the protests of 2018. Jesuit Father Jose Alberto Idiaquez, then rector of the UCA, formed part of the attempt at a National Dialogue that was held that year, representing civil society. During that failed negotiation, the bishops from the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference had served as mediators between the regime and the opposition, trying to find a way out of the crisis. In the end, the attempt wasn’t successful, due to “lack of consensus.” Father Idiaquez, however, would later pay for his participation in the Dialogue and his criticisms of the state repression by being forced into exile. He received death threats. “Yes, I’m clear that if I’m killed, it’s the government that will have given the order, or people close to them,” he stated at the time.

In an interview Idiaquez gave the Spanish newspaper El Pais, he assured: “Pope Francis has clearly said that we must be priests who smell of sheep,” and affirmed that, as the rector [at that time] of a Jesuit University, “it’s my responsibility to be at the front with all the students.”

In June 2022, the rector went to Mexico to attend to some health problems. While he was there, the dictatorship’s officials refused to renew his passport, thus blocking him from returning to Nicaragua and forcing him into exile. Three months later, on September 27, 2022, the Ortega regime employed a similar maneuver with the UCA’s assistant rector, Jorge Huete, blocking his return to the country, and adding him to the list of Nicaraguans banished from their country. Huete had traveled to Argentina to participate in an activity of the Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences. A renowned molecular biologist, he was considered one of Nicaragua’s most renowned scholars and scientists.

Jesuit Father Jose Alberto Idiaquez, former rector of the UCA. Archived photo: La Prensa

Budget cuts

In 2019, the year after the massive demonstrations against the dictatorship, the UCA was “punished” with a huge cut in government funding, as decided by the National University Council, an organization dominated by Ortega allies. The dictatorship moved to cut the UCA off from receiving the government subsidy that lawfully belonged to them. In 2018, the Jesuit University received 251.8 million cordobas [nearly US $8 million dollars], but in 2019 they were allotted only 184.5 million cordobas [approximately US $5.56 million], a drop of 26.7% in their allotment. The burden of this fell on the more than 2,000 students that had been receiving partial scholarships. “This is a punishment for practicing critical thinking,” Idiaquez stated in a 2019 interview with La Prensa. “A university which engages in thought represents a danger,” he assured.

The cuts in the UCAs government funding continued in 2020, 2021, and 2022. During the latter year, the University received only one million cordobas [approximately US $28,000 dollars], less than 1 percent of what it had been assigned in 2018. At the beginning of 2022, following a change in the Law of Autonomy of the Higher Education Institutions, the regime left the UCA completely out of the National University Council and cut if off from the Constitutional mandate that earmarked 6% of the national budget for funding the universities. The university had received this government allotment for decades, using the funds to award scholarships to low-income students.


At the beginning of August of this year, the dictatorship’s Interior Ministry ordered the freezing of the UCAs bank accounts and those of its highest authorities.

On August 10, the Nicaraguan Attorney General’s Office ordered the Public Registry to immobilize the properties of the university. Four days later, the Agency for Alternative Conflict Resolution – a specialized branch of the Nicaraguan Supreme Court and yet another body controlled by the dictatorship – revoked the accreditation of the UCA’s Center for Mediation, even though this accreditation had just been renewed in April. The decision was announced via an official notice in the government bulletin La Gaceta.

On Tuesday, August 15, the Ortega-Murillo regime ordered a Managua judge to emit an official statement accusing the UCA of “terrorism,” and, at the same time, impounding all material and economic assets of the school belonging to the Society of Jesus. The following day, the university announced the suspension of all its academic and administrative activities, “until such a time as it’s possible to resume them in an ordinary manner.”

In February 2022, Ortega-allied deputy Wilfredo Navarro accused the UCA of being “a center of terrorism” and asserted that that the University hadn’t submitted on time the documentation required by the Interior Ministry. This same argument has been used by the regime to strip the legal operating permissions of 26 private universities to date, and to confiscate their assets. “The UCA is a center of terrorism, even now; it’s a center for the promotion of violence and disinformation; it’s not current with the Interior Ministry; it hasn’t fulfilled their requirements, but has been given four different extensions,” declared the Sandinista deputy at that time.

Today, August 16, the Ortega dictatorship has made real their threats.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times

One thought on “Nicaragua: Keys to Understanding Confiscation of the UCA

  • What a rage the stupid reasons with which the Nicaraguan government justifies itself to get rid of any possible opposition. It is as if it is not enough for them to have all the people under the total fear of being the next people to be targeted.

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