The reform to the General Law of Education and the Law of Autonomy of Higher Education Institutions (IES), which left out the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) from the new National Council of Universities (CNU), has the sole objective of “consolidating the political control” of the Ortega-Murillo regime over the universities, said Ernesto Medina, education specialist and former rector of the Universidad Americana (UAM) and the UNAN-León.
“The reform seeks to give a legal basis to their control, already being exercised through officials loyal to the regime. They made up a legal cover for all the arbitrariness so that the control of the universities is carried out through an institution. That is the role the CNU (National Council of Universities), which has been given absolute power over the universities is now going to play,”
Medina indicated in an interview on the Esta Semana program on April 3, available on Facebook and YouTube due to television censorship.
On March 31, the National Assembly —controlled by deputies loyal to the Ortega-Murillo regime—approved reforms to the laws governing higher education.
In addition to depriving the UCA of its share of the 6% constitutional status, new powers were given to the CNU, such as approving or denying career openings and academic programs, which undermines university autonomy.
Medina recalled that the CNU was first created as a coordinating body because, in a country where universities supposedly have complete autonomy, there was no room for a higher body. “Now they are given powers to supervise management, which violates the administrative autonomy of universities, and it also gives them the power to intervene in the universities,” he said.
He further noted that, although in the proposal of the approved reforms they alleged that they sought a supposed strengthening of higher education, “one cannot speak of strengthening a subsystem because it is as strong as its parts are, and here they are weakening the universities, which are key pieces of the subsystem, by taking away their autonomy.”
“By removing autonomy how they are doing it, and with the kind of political control there is in the universities, they are killing the soul of the universities. The soul of the university is to search for truth, and you can only do that if you have a critical spirit, an open mind, freedom to think, act, and research, and in Nicaragua that is not possible. The very idea of what a university is, is being killed,” added Medina.
Regime seeks to economically suffocate the UCA
Medina said the regime went after the UCA through economic suffocation, separating it from the CNU and access to the 6%.
“They know that they could not apply the same ridiculous considerations they used to cancel the legal status of the other universities to the UCA, nor could they close it arbitrarily,” he said.
However, in the last four years, the UCA had already stopped receiving most of the budget allocations, according to an analysis by Confidencial.
Medina said the measures imposed by the Ortega regime against the UCA also have the purpose of “giving signals to other universities. It tells them, if they can do this with the UCA, we can do it with anyone, so it is better to fall in line because the final goal is to silence the critical voices that may still remain in the universities.”
In the first quarter of 2022, the National Assembly canceled the legal status of five private universities in the country and the CNU occupied their facilities. The deputies loyal to the regime were responsible for creating three new state universities with confiscated campuses and assets.
The cancelled universities were the Universidad Politecnica de Nicaragua (UPOLI) —a bastion of the April 2018 civic struggle, Universidad Popular Nicaraguense (UPONIC), Universidad Católica del Trópico Seco (UCATSE), Universidad Nicaraguense de Estudios Humanisticos (UNEH), Universidad Paulo Freire (UPF) and the Universidad Hispanoamericana (UHISPAM).
According to Medina, from outside Nicaragua “there is concern precisely because of the emergence of authoritarian regimes that target universities and are restricting university autonomy and academic freedom.”
He regretted, however, that Central America has maintained a shameful silence for some time now. Except for the Costa Rican universities, which have taken a more dignified position, and have presented resolutions that unfortunately have not been approved within the Central American Higher Education Council (CSUCA), which also keeps a silence that I think is shameful.”
Confiscations prohibited by the Constitution are legitimized
Medina also mentioned that with the approval of the new law for the Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organizations,” which prohibits direct or indirect political activity and that organizations use their structure “to violate public order” or promote “destabilization campaigns” in Nicaragua, has the objective of “giving a legal framework to a series of arbitrary actions that limit the freedom of action and participation of the citizenry in the affairs of the country.”
Medina criticized that to justify the approval of this regulation, they said it is to fight against terrorism and money-laundering when what is sought is to control the organizations that defend, accompany, and promote rights and freedoms.
He noted that the regime has not been able to prove that any non-profit has committed terrorism or money laundering. On the contrary, it has ordered them to be closed with absurd justifications and without real grounds.
He recalled that in the case against the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (FVBCh), in which the regime sentenced three workers and two former directors of that organization to between seven and thirteen years in prison, “nothing was proven, and no other NGO has been proven to have anything to do with alleged money-laundering.”
The Ortega regime has unleashed constant persecution against non-profit organizations, especially those dedicated to defending rights and promoting the exercise of democracy, rights, and freedoms. In the last four years, from 2018 to March 2022, it ordered the cancellation of the legal status of 143 NGOs and confiscated the assets of at least half a dozen of these organizations.
The new law also empowers the State of Nicaragua to confiscate the assets of non-profit organizations, in clear violation of the Constitution of Nicaragua, which in its article 44 prohibits the “confiscation of assets.” Article 47 of the new legislation presents that the State will keep the properties of NGOs when the legal status has been cancelled for eight reasons, the only exception being when the cancellation occurs due to “dissolution and liquidation.”
Medina reiterated that the legalization of confiscation, as well as the reforms to the higher education laws that impose more control over the universities, is “an excuse for all the illegalities and arbitrariness that exist in the country.”
“We are getting closer to what North Korea is. We are heading there and that is what awaits us if we let this ambition of total control of institutions and people continue to advance,” he warned.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times