• IQS Learns About the Reality of the UCA Nicaragua Firsthand

Thursday, 23 November, 2023
Cátedra de Ética y Pensamiento Cristiano IQS

On 10 November, the IQS Department of Ethics and Christian Thought organized an Emergency Meeting for professors and administrative staff in order to reflect on the situation of the Central American University of Nicaragua (UCA).

It is public knowledge that the UCA is a prestigious private university founded by the Society of Jesus in Nicaragua in 1960. However, on 17 August of this year, the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo ordered its closure and seizure accusing it of being a "centre of terrorism" due to its support of social protests against the government.

Dr Edurne Larracoechea, who holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of London, led the conference. A professor of the Master's Degree in Gender and Development at the UCA, and currently working at the University of Girona, she belongs to feminist groups such as Matagalpa (Nicaragua) and Feministas Autoconvocadas (Barcelona).

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America

To begin with, Dr Larracoechea spoke of Nicaragua's historical context: a Central American country with a population of approximately six million people that faces significant challenges. 60% of the population is under the age of 25, and about 15% identify as part of an indigenous or other ethnic group. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America, with 44.7% of its population living below the poverty line.

In the 1980s, after the fall of the Somoza dictatorship, the Sandinista revolution was established and brought some positive transformations as well as certain political changes in 1990. In 2006, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), led by Daniel Ortega, returned to power. "The key question is how the FSLN, which led the revolution, became a repressor," said the speaker.

In 2018, Ortega's government, along with his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo, faced social protests that led to brutal repression. This resulted in assassinations, exiles, political prisoners, and attacks on civil society, academic freedom, and educational rights. Dr Larracoechea knows firsthand that Nicaraguan feminists denounced Ortega for years for sexual abuse, especially after they supported Zoilamérica Narváez, Ortega's stepdaughter, in their denunciations in 1998. The feminists accused the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and Daniel Ortega of silencing and concealing abuses.

The UCA as a refuge for free and open thought

Dr Larracoechea pointed out that the UCA, in addition to being an institution that represented academic quality and excellence in Social Sciences, progressive thinking, and diverse viewpoints, was always a welcoming space for feminists. "All degree programmes have had gender subjects for years," added the expert.

On the other hand, the school was also home to the Nicaraguan and Central American History Institute (IHNCA), a highly-recognized institute; the headquarters of Nitlapan, a research and development centre; as well as the Envío Journal. With an enrolment of more than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students, more than 500 faculty members, and about 200 administrative staff, it represented a benchmark of academic excellence and was one of the best-equipped universities in the Central American country.

The speaker explained the symbolic role played by the UCA to the audience: "It was one of the last spaces that promoted open thought and criticism in an academic environment of excellence and with international recognition. During the 2018 student protests, it became a refuge and safe space for students, but also for citizens in general. A refuge in a literal and symbolic sense."

Specifically, the Central American University publicly demonstrated support for the students on 12 May 2018 when the Jesuit authorities called on them to "resolutely take on the defence of the life of the student body and the inviolability of university campuses," condemning state violence.

The problems facing the university community

In the opinion of Dr Larracoechea, "the closure of the UCA represents revenge against the university and against the Jesuits for the role they have played since 2018 in protecting students and denouncing human rights violations by the regime."

In great detail, the professor described the events suffered by the university community. As a first symbolic act, the government of Daniel Ortega ordered the removal of the UCA name from the main door of the university (two days after the closure order). They also ordered the closure of the university's website, and "a very serious thing for all students, they ordered the erasure of academic records." They arrested four student leaders for denouncing the closure of the UCA. Three women remain in prison today. A few weeks ago the government formally charged them with “marijuana possession.”

The lecturer then delved into the practical problems that the closure of the university entails for her student community. A week after the forced closure, the Nicaraguan government announced that the university would open under the name of "Casimiro Sotelo." However, the date has been postponed several times and, at this time, the opening is now scheduled for January 2024.

The indignations of the Ortega government go further: the 600 UCA students who enrolled in the UAM (the American University, which is owned by the army) were expelled by order of Rosario Murillo and told that they will only be allowed to study at the new "Casimiro Sotelo" university. At this time, these students only have the option of waiting for the Casimiro Sotelo University to open or applying to UCA El Salvador or Rafael Landívar University in Guatemala. About 3,000 students (approximately 60%) have applied, and the Association of Universities Entrusted to the Society of Jesus in Latin America (AUSJAL) is working on raising funds for scholarships.

Considering the situation, Dr Larracoechea noted the complex situation that UCA students now face, such as economic problems, becoming immigrants (since studying at one of these universities means accepting exile), or the fact that for students in certain degrees, such as Law, it practically means starting over.

The audience attending the talk found the guest speaker's presentation truly illustrative. It was an enriching experience that opened our eyes to the realities that our fellow professors, administrative staff, and the student body of a sister university in Central America are suffering.