Nicaragua’s Largest University Reopens amid Protests and Harassment

“I can’t attend classes when the blood of my brothers and sisters is shouting for justice.”


Some students attended classes forced by their parents or for fear of reprisals. Others have declared themselves in student disobedience.


By Franklin Villavivencio  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Back to classes was not very exciting for Pedro. At the entrance, security guards checked every nook of his backpack, even though he had shown them his active student card. “I only have two notebooks, nothing more,” said the university student with increasing annoyance while the rudeness of the guards increased when they were confronted.

“Today I came to classes more because of my parents, who told me to come and I did not want to contradict them,” expressed the young student who for fear of reprisals prefers not to say his name. “Only five of my fellow-students came. I did not want to come because I do not agree on how this situation is handled,” he added.

On September 29th, the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN-Managua) resumed classes that until then had been suspended since the protests began in April. A group of university students, a few days before, called for student disobedience in the face of persecution, assassinations and arbitrary dismissal of teachers and academic staff.

“We do not feel safe, we believe that it is not right to attend classes with this crisis that has left hundreds of dead, and many UNAN students in jails,” stated other students in a statement released through social networks. This appeal was well received by the students. However, many have been forced to attend for fear of reprisals or because their parents have forced them. This is the case of Pedro who labels the new security measures in the campus as “absurd.”

“I have several peers who are from the departments and have had to return to school because they are afraid that they will take away the scholarship that they have earned with so much effort. I do not blame them,” said another student who has joined the student disobedience and protests at the main entrance of the Central American University (UCA) on the morning of October first.

On Monday morning, classes were resumed by the Faculties of Economic Sciences, Medical Sciences and Engineering Sciences. Each student will only assist twice a week, a measure that according to some university students is to prevent them from organizing.

A university that “is no longer the same”

Several police patrols pass in front of young people with Nicaraguan flags participating in a sit-in outside the Central American University (UCA). Jorge Torres / EFE

Pedro commented that several things have change since the return to classes. The first absence he noticed was that of his teachers. “They are different. They say that they were retired, but we all know that there are other reasons.” Some of the professors were less than 30 years old and they were fired for “political reasons” and for not agreeing with the government. The excuse of “retirement” seems absurd.

Also several professors have called for the “reestablishment of university autonomy” to ensure the “comprehensive training and dignity of the students.”

“To the university community in particular, and to the general public, we urge you to take firm steps to restore university autonomy as soon as possible,” demanded former UNAN-Leon professors, who consider that the current University Council does not respect the statutes of the university.

This call was made public on Saturday, September 29th, the day UNAN-Managua renewed classes after a five-months suspension. The professors emphasized the need to restore university autonomy, whose Law 89 dictates the financial, administrative and organizational independence of universities in the country, and that for several educators has been violated by the government in the last decade. In fact, for academics such as Carlos Tunnermann Berheim and Ernesto Medina, superior education is going through its “worse crisis in the history of Nicaragua.”

The professors also demanded the reinstatement of at least sixth prestigious professors, who were “dismissed for supporting the student demonstrations” against the Government of Daniel Ortega. They also advocate for the reintegration of university students expelled without having been notified in advance.

“Yes to classes, but without dictatorship”

A few kilometers from the prepared entrance for the re-entry to the UNAN-Managua, a group of students called a sit-in entitled “To the streets for autonomy.” But, from six o’clock in the morning, riot police armed with AK-47 rifles prevented the civic demonstration. Later, state workers took control of the University Roundabout. The organizers of the sit-in decided to change location and did the sit-in at the main gate of the UCA, at around 8:30 a.m.

Dozens of university students declaring themselves in “student disobedience”, yelled “Daniel Ortega, violator of the autonomy!”  And, carried banners with messages such as: “Freedom for the university!” a slogan that sheltered the struggle for university autonomy in the 1950’s decade, a period in which a large group of university students from Leon led by Mariano Fiallos Gil demanded the development of a truly autonomous university.

The group of students, mostly from state universities, remained throughout the demonstration surrounded by dozens of riot police, who covered the area from the traffic lights of ENEL to the Ruben Dario roundabout.

A young man with a biology book in his left hand, a poster in his right hand and a blue and white scarf commented that they had been convoked to demand “classes without dictatorship.”

“Conditions do not exist to resume classes. We also demand justice and the release of the political prisoners who are our friends: Yaritza, Levi, Edwin and all the rest. We are here to raise their voices because they raised their voices when they in front for all of us,” affirmed the university student.

Another young man, also with his face covered, said he decided to attend the sit-in for “the great violations been made to the university autonomy.” His name is included in the long list of students expelled by the authorities of the UNAN-Managua. He found out about this “arbitrary decision” when he reviewed his grades record online. In recent weeks, dozens of students have shared screenshots of their expulsions on social networks.

“They expelled me for thinking differently in this country because it is a country politicized by the Sandinista Front, a failed revolution. We are not fighting against the people who fought in that war, but against this dictatorship,” he said on another day of harassment and governmental repression in Nicaragua.