Nicaragua Takes Over Catholic University, Saying It Was a Center of Terrorism

From a Wall Street Journal story by José de Córdoba headlined “Ortega Regime Seizes Catholic University in Nicaragua”:

A Nicaraguan court ordered the government seizure of the Jesuit-run Central American University, declaring that the school was a “center of terrorism.”

President Daniel Ortega’s confiscation of the university is the latest blow to the Catholic church, universities and the remnants of Nicaragua’s battered civil society. The government has expelled and imprisoned priests, including a bishop, and many political opponents.

The university said Wednesday that a court ordered the confiscation of its property and bank accounts, saying that the university had become a “center of terrorism, organizing delinquent groups.”

As a result, the university known as UCA was suspending all activities, it said in a statement to the school community.

“These grave accusations are totally false and unfounded,” the Society of Jesus, as the Jesuits are known, said in a statement from their regional headquarters in El Salvador. The 63-year-old UCA, which serves some 5,000 students and has more than 500 professors, is among Nicaragua’s leading private universities.

“The de facto confiscation of the UCA is the price to pay for the search for a more just society, for the protection of life, truth and the liberty of the Nicaraguan people, in consonance with the motto: The truth will set you free,” the Jesuits said.

The U.S. condemned the move against the university. “The confiscation of the Central American University, a symbol of academic excellence and hope for the future of Nicaragua, represents a major erosion of democratic norms and the closing of civic space,” said Brian Nichols, the State Department’s senior Latin America official, in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s vice president and Ortega’s wife, who acts as the spokeswoman for the regime, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit, an order known for centuries for its dedication to education.

The Jesuits said UCA had been the object of persecution by the Ortega regime since 2018, when the university tried to protect thousands of students who took to the streets to protest Ortega government policies. The protesters were met with harsh repression by police and paramilitary security forces, who fired upon the students.

Universities in the capital, Managua, were the center for the demonstrations that shook the Ortega regime. More than 300 people were killed, most of them by security forces, before the protests ended.

Ortega has been in power since 2007. He last won re-election in 2021 after arresting and imprisoning all of his opponents in a vote deemed to be a farce by the U.S. and the international community. The U.S. has sanctioned Ortega’s wife, other family members, and government officials.

Ortega has closed independent media, political groups and civil society organizations. Hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans have gone into exile, many to neighboring Costa Rica and the U.S.

“This is a government policy that is systematically violating human rights and appears to be aimed at consolidating a totalitarian state,” the Jesuits said of the takeover of the university.

At least three of Ortega’s children studied at UCA, as have high-ranking members of his government.

“The Ortega regime has taken over more than 25 universities and colleges in the last two years,” said Arturo McFields, a former senior Nicaraguan Washington-based diplomat who defected last year.

In most cases, McFields said, the government replaces the administrators with its own people and takes over running the schools. “They want to keep making money,” he said.

Changes made last year in education laws increased the powers of the government’s National Council of Universities. The council has control over public and private universities, giving it the ability to authorize study plans and academic programs, apply sanctions and intervene in private institutions.

“They fire troublesome professors and expel students that don’t submit,” said a person in Managua with knowledge of the government’s actions. “They often change the name of the university to some Sandinista hero. Many students leave,” he said.

The Ortega government has also closed or expelled more than 3,000 nongovernmental organizations that provide Nicaragua’s poor with education, water and medical services. It has closed the Nicaraguan Red Cross and seized the country’s most important newspaper, La Prensa.

“Their fundamental strategy is everything within the revolution, nothing outside the revolution,” said McFields, repeating a famous 1961 speech by the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro to Cuban intellectuals, warning them to toe the line shortly after he came to power.

Ortega has also attacked the Catholic church. Last year, the government expelled a contingent of Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity. Earlier this year, the Vatican closed its embassy in Nicaragua after Managua said it had suspended diplomatic relations.

In February, a Nicaraguan court sentenced Msgr. Rolando Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa in northern Nicaragua, to 26 years in prison on charges of undermining the government. The sentence came the day after the prelate refused to go into exile with 222 other political prisoners who were stripped of their Nicaraguan citizenship and expelled to the U.S.

Ortega said the prelate was “out of his mind” and had ambitions to be pope. “He refused to obey the decisions of the Nicaraguan state,” Ortega said.

Álvarez’s plight led Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) to demand that Ortega provide “proof of life” for the imprisoned bishop earlier this month.

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