Nicaragua to take over six universities seen as critical of Ortega – Organization for World Peace
Lawmakers loyal to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega passed legislation on Monday transferring control of six top universities to the state. The legislation is the latest in a series of moves designed to stifle opposition to Ortega’s authoritarian government. Officials claimed that universities were closed due to non-compliance with financial regulations. Opponents, however, say the charges are just an excuse to justify the suppression of opposition movements.
The University crackdowns are the most recent bid for power by the Ortega administration attempting to eliminate all opposition and dissent. The administration has already arrested and detained more than 30 political opponents on presumably fabricated charges, ranging from well-known millionaire bankers to lesser-known student leaders. Before the closures, universities were one of the last centers of resistance to abuses of state and police power. Student protests played a central role in 2018 protests that began as opposition to a policy of Social Security reform but eventually catalyzed widespread anti-government protests.
“At the heart of these measures is a blatant attempt to undermine the student movement, one of the pillars of the struggle for democracy in Nicaragua,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting Americas director at Human Rights Watch. Opponents and academics share fears that the state’s growing influence over public and private life is a sign of accelerating crackdown efforts in the near future. Universities will likely be filled with Ortega loyalists, and criticism of the government will have quick repercussions.
Gonzalo Carrión, a lawyer for the human rights group Nicaragua Never Again, warned of the serious implications of the crackdown: “The goal is to impose a single model of thought, a vertically organized society to perpetuate Ortega in power. Ernesto Medina, the former rector of the León campus of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, said the government takeover was a “warning to some 30 remaining private universities”, calling the attack on the institutions a higher education “the culmination of a process of deterioration of the entire institutional framework of the country.
The latest legislation targeting universities is indicative of the erosion of democracy in Nicaragua. It functions as a deliberate and strategic maneuver to reconfigure the functioning of Nicaraguan society as a whole, a preemptive movement to suppress public dissent and student organizing as Ortega’s rule moves ever closer to total dictatorship. .
It is imperative that the international community expresses its support for Nicaraguan civilians, condemning Ortega’s flagrant abuse of power, including the sponsorship of state-sanctioned violence and the use of scare and intimidation tactics against civilians. International observers must remain categorical in their demands that political opponents wrongfully imprisoned be released, that universities remain autonomous, and that elections take place without interference, manipulation or obstruction.