Nicaragua arrests private universities to stop dissent

MEXICO CITY – Four years after college students led protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, his government is minimizing the chance of a recurrence by seizing dozens of private universities and closing or transfer control to the state.

A generation of students who participated in the April 2018 protests saw their education disrupted. Many were forced into hiding, jailed or exiled as Ortega’s police cracked down. Now others trying to continue their education worry that they won’t be able to finish or finish school but can’t find a job because current state-run schools don’t award diplomas to students. surname.

The takeover of private universities in recent months and the passage of educational reforms to strengthen state control are the latest examples of Ortega’s relentless pursuit of those he considers powerful. plot to overthrow his government.

Ernesto Medina, head of the American University in Managua for 11 years until the end of 2018, said: “In April 2018, the regime repressed to limits not seen in recent years. “That’s when we realized that Ortega wasn’t going to stop until he punished the university and the students.”

A request for comment to the first lady and Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is also a government spokesman, went unanswered.

Earlier this year, dozens of leading opposition figures were tried, convicted and convicted for allegedly trying to destabilize Ortega’s government. NGOs dealing with a wide range of issues were closed – including another 25 on Wednesday – along with independent media outlets.

The Sandinista-controlled Congress in late March passed reforms to two education laws aimed at reducing university autonomy and strengthening government control, experts say. The changes also cut government funding to the Jesuit-led University of Central America in Managua, another center of protest, in April 2018. Those government funds were used to award scholarships to low-income students.

Ortega sought “revenge” against the schools, Medina said. “Ortega’s goal is to consolidate the political control of the government and the Sandinista Front over universities.”

Ortega recognizes how college campuses can create social upheaval. Many of the Sandinista guerrillas who fought alongside him to overthrow dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979 came from universities as leaders of similar movements in Latin America and around the world.

Nicaraguan universities temporarily lost their autonomy after the revolution as well as when the government managing the transition chose university administrators.

“We were held accountable for that abuse and now we are paying the price for it,” said Medina, who at the time supported the Sandinistas.

Of the 12 universities seized, 7 are based in Nicaragua and 5 are virtual campuses of foreign universities. In each case, Congress blamed governance failures and financial inadequacies as justifications for the forfeitures.

University assets were transferred to the state, and three new large universities with a total of 18,000 students were created using that infrastructure.

For weeks in 2018, students occupied the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua in Managua, fearing they would be killed if they left. Frequent skirmishes with police and Sandinista youth. They treated their wounds while trying to coordinate with students at other universities.

Currently, the school is called UPOLI with a student population of 8,000, has been renamed National Polytechnic University or UNP. The new university’s Facebook page is full of comments from students or recent graduates worried about getting the paperwork they need to find a job in their field.

One, a recent nursing graduate, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, said that despite graduating in November, she is still waiting for the necessary paperwork to find a job.

This woman went to public hospitals, medical workers unions and private clinics and was told in each case that she could not be employed until she had her degree and birth code. graduate member.

Her pursuit of answers from university administrators was a string of disappointing derailments and delays.

“One week passed, then two weeks. We went to nursing school, we had no answers,” she said. “They just told us they were going to change the leadership.”

To address this, as the number of COVID-19 cases increases, she takes care of those infected in their homes. Now she cares for an elderly patient.

Another university confiscated is Paulo Freire University, founded in 2007 by lawyer Adrián Meza, a prominent Sandinista fighter during the revolution who later separated himself from Ortega.

Meza moved to Costa Rica shortly after the government seized two buildings and all of his university’s equipment at five locations around the country in February. He said there was a warrant for his arrest. He said the government has taken a hostile stance towards the university for its protection of human rights, especially after Meza denounced the arrest of a university student late last year.

What will happen to the university’s 1,500 students, Meza said, remains unclear, despite the government’s promises of continuity. The school’s political science department has not been approved to continue classes since the takeover.

Epilepsy cases have set the country’s education system back decades, he said.

“We are, in fact, in the Middle Ages, where any manifestation of nonconformity leads to imprisonment,” he said.

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