Network based systems

Nicaragua tightens grip on universities to stifle dissent


MEXICO CITY (AP) — Four years after university students led protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, his government is downplaying the risk of a recurrence by seizing a dozen private universities and closing them or transferring control to the ‘State.

A generation of students who took part in the April 2018 protests saw their education interrupted. Many were forced into hiding, imprisoned or exiled when the Ortega police cracked down. Now others who have managed to return to school fear they won’t be able to finish or have finished but can’t find work because the now state-run schools failed to award them degrees.

The seizure of private universities in recent months and the passage of education reforms that tighten state control are the latest examples of Ortega’s relentless pursuit of those he believes have conspired to try to overthrow his government.

“In April 2018, the regime pushed repression to limits not seen in recent years,” said Ernesto Medina, who led the American University of Managua for 11 years until the end of 2018 and who is in exile in Germany. . “That’s when we realized Ortega wasn’t going to stop until he punished the universities and the students.”

A request for comment from First Lady and Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is also the government spokeswoman, went unanswered.

Earlier this year, dozens of leading opposition figures were tried, convicted and sentenced for allegedly trying to destabilize Ortega’s government. Non-governmental organizations working on a range of issues were shut down – including 25 more on Wednesday – along with independent media.

The Sandinista-controlled congress in late March passed reforms to two education laws that reduce university autonomy and increase government control, experts say. The changes also cut government funding for the Jesuit-run University of Central America in Managua, another center of protest in April 2018. Those government funds had been used to provide scholarships for low-income students.

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

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

Nicaraguan universities also temporarily lost their autonomy after the revolution when the junta that governed the transition chose university administrators.

“We were responsible for this abuse and now we are paying for it,” said Medina, who at the time supported the Sandinistas.

Of the 12 universities seized, seven are based in Nicaragua and five were the virtual campuses of foreign universities. In each case, Congress alleged administrative failures and financial noncompliance as justification for the seizures.

Ownership of universities was transferred to the state and three new major universities with a combined enrollment of 18,000 were established using this infrastructure.

For weeks in 2018, students occupied the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua in Managua, fearing they would be killed if they left. There were frequent skirmishes with the police and the young Sandinistas. They tended to their wounded while trying to coordinate with students from other universities.

Henceforth, the school, known as UPOLI with an enrollment of 8,000 students, was renamed National Polytechnic University or UNP. The new university’s Facebook page is full of comments from students or recent graduates anxious to obtain the documents they need to find a job in their field.

One, a recent nursing graduate who asked not to be identified because she feared reprisals, said that despite graduating in November, she was still waiting for the documents needed to find a job.

The woman had visited government hospitals, the medical workers union and private clinics and in each case was told she could not be employed until she had her diploma and a code given to graduates .

His search for answers from university administrators was a frustrating series of diversions and delays.

“A week passed, then two weeks. We went to nursing school, we don’t have an answer,” she said. “They just told us they were going to change direction.”

To cope, as COVID-19 cases increased, she cared for infected people at home. Now she takes care of an elderly patient.

Another university seized was Paulo Freire University founded in 2007 by lawyer Adrián Meza, a well-known Sandinista activist during the revolution, who later distanced himself from Ortega.

Meza moved to Costa Rica shortly after the government seized his university’s two buildings and all equipment at five sites across the country in February. He said there was an order for his arrest. The government has shown hostility to the university because of its human rights advocacy, especially after Meza denounced the arrest of one of his students late last year, a- he declared.

What will happen to the university’s 1,500 students is unclear, despite government promises of continuity, Meza said. The school’s political science department had not been allowed to resume classes since the takeover.

The seizures have set the country’s education system back decades, he said.

“In fact, we are already in the Middle Ages where any expression of inconformity leads to prison,” he said.

Copyright © 2022 . All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located in the European Economic Area.

Source link