Students don’t want to be in a government-controlled university
Students describe their uncertainty following the Ortega regime’s recent freezing of the Jesuit University’s accounts and property. Many fear an impending government confiscation.
HAVANA TIMES – Members of Nicaraguan youth organizations in exile denounced the repressive actions imposed by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo against Managua’s Central American University (UCA). Many fear the current de facto restrictions are the prelude to a full confiscation of Central America’s first private center of higher education.
The impending risk has left the university community sunk in uncertainty, especially the students, who see their academic future at risk with the dictatorship’s assault on the UCA.
“We’ve received many indications of the unhappiness, the concern, and above all the unease caused by not knowing what will happen tomorrow. Everything the dictatorship has done up until now generates uncertainty,” stated student leader and banished political prisoner Lesther Aleman, in a press conference offered on August 11.
This past week – as sources close to the university confirmed to Confidencial – the Ortega dictatorship froze the UCA’s bank accounts and ordered the Public Registry to put a hold on their property. The UCA hasn’t issued any official explanations of the problem, but in an e-mail sent on August 10, the university recognized that it was facing “an adverse situation.” They assured that, despite everything, “they would continue functioning as a house of higher education.”
“The decision to freeze the accounts and block their assets is an attempt at expropriation and robbery that constitutes a direct attack on education and academic freedom. This puts at risk the continuity of projects, investigations and programs that benefit the entire university community and Nicaraguan society in general,” declared a group of students from the UCA in a press statement entitled: “We are all the UCA,” presented at a press conference held on Zoom.
“No one wants to study in a university controlled by the government”
“Lucia” is in her third year studying Graphic Design in the UCA. She and her group of friends are worried about what could happen with this crisis. “No one wants to study in a university controlled by the government. No one wants to be indoctrinated. We all have enough awareness to know that things aren’t right in Nicaragua,” expressed the young university student, who spoke under an assumed name for fear of reprisals.
From 2021 until now, Nicaragua’s Interior Ministry, in collaboration with the National Council of Universities and the National Council of Evaluation and Accreditation, has closed 26 private centers of higher education, leaving the students in these centers grouped into four new state universities.
“What’s happening in the UCA is cause for alarm”
Neither the Ortega regime nor the UCA authorities have disclosed any official information on the situation. However, the dictatorship’s incursions are seen by the students as one more step on the part of the dictatorship to take over the university, as has already occurred with other centers of private education.
“What’s happening in the UCA is cause for alarm,” stated Aleman, who also warned that these actions could have repercussions on the Colegio Centroamerica [a private Jesuit school that includes elementary, middle and high school]. He indicated that he was aware of an ongoing government audit of the center. Aleman also assured that members of the Public Prosecutor’s Office had appeared on the UCA campus and, without authorization, had made reference to the utilization of the grounds.
“It must be understood that all this is in the hands of unhinged people, who fear thinking. To Rosario Murillo, the UCA is and will always be a threat, because the UCA has prevailed as a center of thought. The Ortega-Murillo see this as a war of symbols, and the UCA is a symbol of resistance,” he expressed.
In 2018, the UCA became a bastion of the struggle against the Ortega regime, which then squashed with blood and firepower the civic rebellion that broke out that year. The university students, among them Lesther Aleman, stood out for their strong denunciation of the human rights violations.
The UCA campus became a refuge for hundreds of Nicaraguans fleeing the police and paramilitary on May 30, 2018, when a massive Mothers’ Day March was attacked. And when the regime began to close each and every space of resistance in Nicaragua, the UCA was the last place where students could yell “Long Live a Free Nicaragua” in relative safety.
UCA in the regime’s crosshairs for encouraging critical thinking
Those actions of the UCA have put it in the regime’s crosshairs. In 2022, they left it out of a Constitutional mandate that earmarks 6% of the national budget to the centers of higher education. Yubrank Suazo, former political prisoner and member of the Alliance of Nicaraguan University Students, stressed the university’s social commitment to cultivate critical thinking in its students. It’s precisely for that reason, he asserts, that it’s become the object of these attacks.
“An eventual confiscation of the UCA would have catastrophic consequences in academic and humanitarian terms, since it would provoke the flight of knowledge and talent and would impoverish still further the future of Nicaragua,” read a joint communication issued by exiled members of 6 youth organizations: Alliance of Nicaraguan Youth and Students; Alliance of Nicaraguan University Students; April 19 University Movement; the UNA Movement; April 19th Student Movement; and the Youth-Student Unity.
Similarly, they exhorted the international community, human rights advocates, and the Company of Jesus to show their solidarity on a global scale and unite to defend the UCA and higher education in Nicaragua.
Prefer to leave the country rather than be indoctrinated
Several of Lucia’s classmates have already commented that if the regime confiscates the UCA, they would opt to leave the country. There are no other options, says the 20-year-old student, since none of her friends want to study in an “indoctrinated university.” In her case, she has the possibility of living outside the country, but it’s not an easy decision because it means abandoning her three years of university studies.
“Carlos” [assumed name], a student of Communications, feels bad about this uncertainty over his academic future. He was happy because he was recently approved for a half-tuition scholarship, which offered him an economic “breather.” However now, “everyone is looking for where to go,” he said, in reference to his group of classmates.
None of the university students speak of putting up resistance. “We already resigned ourselves to living in fear,” Carlos says. He recognizes: “there’s nothing we can do.” The despair and resignation is evident. Lucia assures that a student uprising would have more negative consequences than advantages.
“We wouldn’t gain anything with that. We already know what would happen – they’d put us in jail. It’s no use. We have no other option but to give in,” she expressed.