On August 18, 2023, Nicaraguan authorities announced the seizure of Central American University, Managua’s (UCA) property and financial accounts, declaring the school, which is affiliated with the Jesuit branch of the Catholic Church, a “center of terrorism.”
On August 15, Nicaragua’s Tenth Criminal Court issued a warrant for the confiscation of all property owned by the university, including buildings and bank accounts. The warrant claimed that UCA was a “terrorist center,” where “criminal groups of armed and masked individuals were organized to use terrorist methods in the country.” The confiscation of property led to the evictions of several Jesuits members of the university community from their residences. The following day, on August 16, the university announced that all classes and administrative activities were canceled due to the court order.
On August 18, the government published a Ministerial Agreement that officially revoked the university’s legal status. The agreement also mandated the transfer of all UCA data on students, teachers, programs, curricula, and registration to the National University Council (CNU), which is affiliated with the Sandinista National Liberation Front, the official party and government of Nicaragua.
UCA was a center for the 2018 protests against President Ortega’s regime and has been subjected to a series of retaliatory actions in the years since. This has included exclusion from the CNU in an apparent attempt to weaken the university’s budget; denial of certificates needed to operate the university; and the withholding of several UCA directors’ funds.
The seizure of UCA seizures appears to be part of a broader pattern, ongoing since 2021, in which the government has taken over a number of educational institutions, particularly religious institutions, seen as opposed to the Ortega regime (see report). Similar past takeovers have reportedly led to the termination of professors critical of the government.
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, 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 higher education institutions severely undermines these values, and harms democratic society generally.