On February 2, 2022, a majority of members of the Nicaraguan National Assembly allied with President Daniel Ortega voted to cancel the operating licenses of five of the country’s universities, leading the government to seize operational control of the institutions
On February 2, the National Assembly voted to strip the Catholic University of Dry Tropic Farming and Livestock (UCATSE), the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua (UPOLI), the Paulo Freire University (UPF), the Popular University of Nicaragua (UPONIC), and the Nicaraguan University of Humanistic Studies (UNEH) – as well as nine other associations – of their operating licenses, based on allegations that they were in violation of financial disclosure requirements. The Assembly then passed legislation giving control of the institutions to the government-run National Council of Universities. Collectively, these universities enroll over 14,000 students.
Notwithstanding the government’s charges regarding the institutions’ financial disclosures, university officials and others allege that the government’s decision to takeover the institutions stems from 2018 protests against the Ortega government, which the government violently suppressed, ending in the deaths of more than 350 Nicaraguans. University students, and particularly those at UPOLI, were among the leading groups of protesters.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the targeting and takeover of higher education institutions by national policymakers, apparently as retaliation for expressive activity or political opinion – conduct which is expressly protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nicaragua is a party. Enforcement of administrative laws and regulations, such as financial disclosure requirements, must be transparent, non-partisan, and proportionate, taking into account relevant human rights concerns including academic freedom and university autonomy. The summary government takeover of multiple higher education institutions severely undermines these values, and harms democratic society generally.
UPDATE: On February 4, 2022, the former rector of Paulo Freire University, Adrián Meza, fled to Costa Rica due to concerns about his safety and freedom following the university closures. Speaking with Despacho 505, Meza stated that a high-level official in the Ortega government had warned him directly that he should leave the country.