This is the second part to the previous article dealing with the expulsion of over 110 students from public universities by the Government.
The UNAN held a “black mass” to order to expel students
By Keyling T. Romero/Franklin Villavicencio in REVISTA NIÚ January, 2020
II and last part
A “Security Commission” decreed their “academic death”. Members of the UNEN turned in a list of “coup supporting” university students.
The verdict of “academic death” against at least 110 students from the campuses of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) came out of a “black mass” with the participation of members of the National Union of University Students (UNEN). Three weeks before the University finalized the expulsion in August 2018, the University Council authorized the creation of a Special Extraordinary Commission that would analyze the consequences for university students critical of the regime, many of them barricaded and even political prisoners of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
University students confirmed for REVISTA NIÚ that since the beginning of August 2018 the University Council held emergency meetings in the Center for Research on Aquatic Resources of Nicaragua (CIRA-UNAN). The Special Commission there analyzed case by case the list of “coup supporting students” provided by the UNEN itself. The result was the first massive expulsion of students in the history of Nicaragua, in a process that violated the internal regulations of the university itself, and curtailed the right to education for more than a hundred university students.
None of the students that were expelled on August 17, 2018 knew that a process against them existed, as the internal regulations of the UNAN require. Nor did they receive notification in writing for the reasons or the final resolution, nor did they have the possibilities for appeal.
The Special Commission, also known as the Security Commission, was created apart from the two disciplinary commissions that were already established in the academic rules of the UNAN. And in those they created sub-commissions for each school, but not all had to do with the academic lives of the accused students. There was one whose task was the revision of the social networks of each university student.
Authorities are silent about the expulsions
This new commission was a closed commission. It was just called the Special Commission. It was never revealed who they were. “Another process that is completely illegitimate because you have to know who is judging you,” denounced the student Elthon Rivera, a member of University Action, the student movement that has gathered information about this case.
“That commission,” adds Rivera, “had the mission of spying and doing follow up to identify those who were criticizing the Government, and based on that, to do the expulsions.”
This month of January 2020 will be 17 months since these massive expulsions, and the UNAN had not publicly recognized how many students were sanctioned, what campuses they were from, what the proof was that resulted in that decision, why the students were not notified either of the process nor of the decision, and who formed the Special Commission that issued the decision against the students.
The only official communication that alludes to the expulsions is a document leaked in September, but dated August 20, 2018. In the document Luis Alfredo Lobato, General Secretary of the UNAN writes to César Rodríguez Lara, Director of Registration. Lobato mentions the Extraordinary Session No. 13-2018, carried out on August 17th. That day a “report” was presented prepared by the Special Commission, along with the resolution of the University Council. The annex: the names, majors, schools and identification numbers of 82 expelled students.
According to figures from the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in the UNAN 144 expulsions were carried out, recorded by University Action. The movement argued to REVISTA NIÚ that they could not share the details of those figures, because the information was provided in confidence. Nevertheless, it provided a list of 55 students expelled with their personal data and identities protected.
The “crimes” of the students
The commission and sub commissions that banished the university students from their campuses, started with the approval of the University Council, the highest body of the UNAN. The Council is composed of seven members under the responsibility of the President Ramona Rodríguez. In addition, ten deans of schools, three secretaries and twelve presidents of the UNEN, led by Allan Daniel Martínez, and Iris Valeria Cruz Martínez, the student president of the Ruben Darío campus in Managua.
“The decision to expel the students was made in the University Council, but it had to pass through a disciplinary commission. That commission never existed,” complains Alejandra Centeno, a young woman expelled in spite of her academic excellence, and a member of University Action. Centeno also criticizes the fact that a Security Commission was created that did not exist in the University Council. “We do not know exactly who got the idea to expel the students, we think that the UNEN made the list and turned it in,” she denounced. The UNEN, she clarifies, is a member with voice and vote in the University Council.
Among the reasons to justify the expulsion of the students, the Special Commission alleged “having participated in barricades, use of devices for physical aggression, allowing the entry of people from outside the university, vandalistic behavior, calls for academic disobedience and inciting hate and violence.”
In addition, it prohibited those expelled from entering the campus again, threatening to file charges against them “in court.” At the end of the leaked sheet of paper is the detail: “cc (copy to): Ramona Rodríguez Pérez”, the President of the UNAN, who later was named president of the National University Council (CNU), the umbrella organization of higher education in Nicaragua.
“Publicly accepting that she expelled students who are opponents is openly accepting that you violated a human right, and that the State is not capable of ensuring education,” denounced Centeno.
Ramona Rodríguez, the key element within the UNAN.
If the repression against the students came to expulsions, the principal person responsible for allowing it – assess the students – is the President, Ramona Rodríguez, who in August 2019 was named the new president of the National University Council (CNU).
“She goes into history as the worst president that the UNAN has had. There are videos where she appeared haranguing and threatening the students with taking away their scholarships if they participated in marches (…) and since then, some questions have been raised as to whether her nomination followed the criteria established by law to name or elect the president of the CNU. Her academic qualifications have been questioned, because the president of a university should be an academic par excellence, and she did not have the best academic attributes to be the president”, assesses Jorge Mendoza, President of the Forum on Education and Human Development (FEDH).
According to her academic profile published on the web site of the UNAN-Managua, Ramona Rodríguez has a Masters in Environment and Natural Resources, a specialization in Scientific Research Methodology, and a licentiate in Education Sciences. In addition, she was the Director of the Regional School of Estelí from 1994 to 2010. Then she was chosen as the General Vice President on the Managua campus, and since March 2015 has been the President of that campus.
REVISTA NIÚ requested an interview with the President of the UNAN and President of the CNU, Ramona Rodríguez, to get to know the official version of the university, but she has not responded to communications.
The academic and former President of the UNAN-León, and American University (UAM), Ernesto Medina, commented, “I do not know whether that woman sleeps peacefully, because of everything that is happening in her university and the CNU, because it is also a body that has lost the little prestige that it might have.” In his judgement Rodríguez “does not play any role in being concerned about higher education,” but rather in administering the 6% of the General Budget of the Republic that is shared among the universities as a reward or punishment, depending on their positions in respect to the Government. “In recent years – Medina criticizes – that has been her only concern.”
They violated procedures
The Student Discipline Regulations of the UNAN-Managua establish that when a student commits a serious offense – all the expulsions were justified in this way – the case should be taken to the Facultative Disciplinary Commission, which must notify the student in a period of three days, with the purpose of starting the investigation. Then, the case is taken to the Higher Disciplinary Commission, that has between 10-15 days to investigate and listen to the version of the student. And finally, both commissions deliberate and issue their verdict.
The student, adds the regulations, has the power to appeal to the President. Nevertheless, this procedure was not followed in the massive expulsion decided in August 2018 against more than a hundred university students, and none of them were notified of the accusation, nor of the verdict.
The youth denounced that in addition to being expelled, they lost the opportunity to take up their studies in other universities, because the authorities also refused to give them their certified academic records which even, in some cases, were completely erased from the records.
The takeover of campuses in protest
The takeover of universities, schools, churches and public buildings as a form of protest and resistance has been recorded for more than sixty years in Nicaragua. The ruling Sandinista Front, which through the control of the UNEN and the authorities of the UNAN in August 2018 pushed for the expulsion of at least 110 students after the protests that erupted in April of that year, also used the takeover of institutions and campuses.
“When I was a student (in the seventies) we did it several times to protest for the freedom of the political prisoners and, at that time, that was beautiful, marvelous, we were heroic; now we are vandals and coup supporters for doing what the youth have always done,” criticizes the academic Ernesto Medina, who was student and president of UNAN-León, and until November 2018, the president of the American University (UAM).
At that time, Medina recalls, the only expulsion was against two leaders of the University Center of the Autonomous University of Nicaragua (CUUN) in the León campus. In protest, the students took over the campus again, and the president was forced to allow them to return. Then, he adds, there was other takeovers, but there were no expulsions.
“In the times of university autonomy there were never expulsions for reasons of a political nature,” maintains the professor, former president of UNAN León, and ex Minister of Education, Carlos Tunnermann. “It did not even occur to either Dr. Mariano Fiallos (considered the father of university autonomy), nor to I, to expel anyone,” he states.
Medina and Tunnermann agree today in the Civic Alliance opposition group, and while talking about the current expulsions against university students, they compared their own experience when they coincided in the León campus, Medina as a student and Tunnermann as the President.
In those years, Nicaragua was under another dictatorship, the Somoza one. Nevertheless, they state that in the universities the students had freedom of thought, and that was where they organized, protested and even raised money to send to the Sandinista Front.
On one occasion, remembers Medina, the students protested over a book. “In that book there was a chapter on the American Embassy, and that is why we ended up taking over the university. We went to sing a serenade to Dr. Tunnermann (then the President of the campus) and it never occurred to him to expel us. He knew who we were who were singing songs to him in front of his house. Even more, when there were problems within the university, we would pull out the benches and block the street. And the authorities would show up to talk to us,” he relates.
University autonomy, approved in 1958, is hamstrung with the new dictatorship that Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo lead. The public universities are controlled from within by the tentacles of the regime: the UNEN, the Sandinista Workers Center, the Provincial Sandinista Committees and the university authorities who are strategically chosen by the party to follow their guidelines.
A researcher of educational issues, María Josefina Vijil, assesses that “education in Nicaragua is suffering” at all levels, because it has become partisan. “Many youth have told us that the public universities are like a big prison: you cannot come on a day when you do not have classes, they have lowered the amount of class hours to keep the students from meeting among themselves, and a ton of repressive measures to keep them from organizing. The University – she laments – has become a repressive institution for the youth.”