Ortega’s Changing Strategy to Keep Control of Universities

File photo: Oscar Navarrete/ LA PRENSA

Since before the crisis that the country is going through, the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship has been attacking academic freedom.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – Before Daniel Ortega’s return to power, the universities rose up against the governments in office for different reasons, such as the allocation of six percent that the Constitution established for ten campuses of the National Council of Universities. In 2018, the universities rebelled in favor of social demands, such as the complaints of the fire in the Indio Maiz Reserve and the reforms to Social Security. After a process of control of the universities the regime uses them to punish opponents by annulling their diplomas or denying them their academic records.

Upon handing over the presidency to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in 1990, Ortega stated that they would govern “from below,” this implied the control over labor and other union groups, such as the National Union of Students of Nicaragua (UNEN), which led countless protests.

After Ortega’s return to the presidency in 2007, UNEN became a fundamental piece for  the control within different universities, taking over voting in the campuses’ decisions. In a report published by the Domingo magazine of La Prensa, a former Dean on the condition of anonymity assured that since 2007 a new reward system for high-ranking UNEN members was installed. The Sandinista Front assured them a position as public officials with substantial benefits.

Between May and June 2018, four of the main university campuses were a symbol of citizen resistance. In these, the barricaded young people fought heavy clashes against the repressive apparatus of the regime.

Ortega with a clear position against universities

Recently, academic Ernesto Molina stated to La Prensa that “the Ortega-Murillo regime since 2018 has a very clear position against universities, university autonomy, academic freedom, and in reality, it is a line of action against everything that means promotion of critical, free thought.”

Furthermore, specialists told La Prensa that the actions of the Ortega Murillo regime could also affect higher education in Central American. This is due to the recent refusal of a group of university students from the Autonomous University of Honduras to pass through the national territory en route to Costa Rica.

Relatives and friends participate in Gerald Velasquez’s funeral, a UNAN student killed by police and paramilitaries last Friday when they besieged this campus for more than 16 hours. Oscar Navarrete/ LA PRENSA.
Photo: La Prensa
On the pedestrian bridge of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) they placed photographs of the damage to the campus. La Prensa/R. Fonseca.
In the demonstrations they also demanded university autonomy for the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), the National Engineering University (UNI) and the Polytechnic University (UPOLI).  La Prensa / Roberto Fonseca.
University students have demanded the resignation of the rector of the UNAN-Leon, Flor de Maria Valle, the reestablishment of university autonomy, modification of the academic pensum and to call elections to change university students representatives. La Prensa / E. Lopez.
One of the gates that was guarded by paramilitaries. La Prensa/ Roberto Fonseca.
With gun in hand, a paramilitary watches from inside UNAN-Managua. La Prensa / J. Flores.

Symbol of resistance

As part of the citizen rebellion, higher education centers became strongholds of the struggle. In 2018, the campuses were protagonists in confronting the regime.

The National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN-Managua), the defunct Polytechnic University of Nicaragua (UPOLI), Engineering University of Nicaragua (UNI) and the National Agrarian University (UNA) were occupied by the students in 2018. The main demand of the young people was to recover university autonomy, which was linked to one of the main political arms of the regime, the National Union of Students of Nicaragua (UNEN).

Managua, Nicaragua. 03/03/2018. Confrontation between UPOLI university students and National Police. Wilmer Lopez / La Prensa.

In the months of May, June and July of 2018, these universities suffered several attacks that resulted in multiple people seriously injured and several dead. In addition, the young people who participated in the takeover of these universities were expelled from them, their academic records erased, and many of them were only months away from finishing their university studies.

UNEN, an arm of the Sandinista Front

The regime regained control over the universities. First with armed attacks in 2018, afterwards with the withdrawal of the legal status of the campuses and then strengthening UNEN. An example of the closeness of this student organization with the regime is that many of its leaders later held public positions. The former leader of UNEN, Isaac Lenin Bravo, who was recently removed from his post as ambassador to Iran, and the former president of the organization, Jasser Martinez, held for some time a post as deputy of the National Assembly.

UCA expelled from CNU

The private Central American University (UCA) has represented an inconvenience to the regime because it has been characterized as a promoter of critical thinking in the university community, and it has also adopted a critical stance against the crimes against humanity committed by the dictatorship.

As a consequence, the National Council of Universities (CNU), run by the regime, expelled the university from it. The authorities did not go into details about this fact, but the decision of the dictatorship was made known through a brief communique.

Previously, the CNU had also been gradually reducing the budget allocated to this university. The university had to reduce scholarships by twenty percent, starting in the second semester of 2022.

Recently the map of universities has changed, the regime regained control, and renamed the campuses. Students who participated in the 2018 protests lost their academic records, were forced into exile or were victims of the cancellation of their degree titles.

Undermine academic freedom

Violations of academic freedom have also affected grade schools, the most recent attack has been against schools linked to the Catholic Church.

Braulio  Abarca, of the “Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Nicaragua Nunca +,” explains that violations of human rights, academic freedom, university autonomy and the right to education continue to be perpetuated in Nicaragua.

“This shows that they are practically training in a form of brainwashing, in order to have absolute control of the country’s education” he remarked.

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