At the U.S. State Department on Thursday, Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel condemned the recent seizure of a Jesuit-run university in Nicaragua and called for the release of political prisoners there, including Bishop Rolando Álvarez.
“The Ortega-Murillo seizure of the Jesuit-run Universidad Central Americana represents the further erosion of democratic norms and a stifling civic space,” Patel said in response to a question about the situation from EWTN News Nightly White House correspondent Owen Jensen. “This is a premier center of academic excellence, independent inquiry, and a hope for [the] future in Nicaragua.”
“The U.S. condemns the regime’s ongoing repression of religious figures and institutions and we call for the immediate unconditional release of individuals of conscience imprisoned in Nicaragua, including Bishop Álvarez,” Patel continued.
“The decision is a further sign that Ortega and Murillo continue to embrace authoritarianism and undermine all independent institutions in Nicaragua. Despite their efforts, they cannot extinguish freedom of thought and we’re going to continue to use diplomatic and economic tools to promote accountability for such acts.”
Jensen also asked if the U.S. government knew whether or not Bishop Álvarez was still alive, to which Patel responded that he had no further assessment to offer other than the continued call for the bishop’s release.
The dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua on Tuesday confiscated all the assets and bank accounts of the Central American University (UCA), run by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), accusing the school of “terrorism.”
The university confirmed the government action in an email Wednesday shared on X by Arturo McFields Yescas, former Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS).
In its message, the UCA informed the university community that on Aug. 15 the 10th Criminal District Court of Managua announced “the seizure of real estate, furnishings, money in national or foreign currency from frozen bank accounts, financial products in national or foreign currency owned by the UCA.”
The court also ruled that from now on the regime will be in charge of “all educational programs.”
In its email, the UCA said the measures were taken based on “unfounded allegations” that it “functioned as a center of terrorism, organizing criminal groups.”
“Given all this, the Central American University reaffirms its commitment to Nicaraguan society to top-quality higher education faithful to its founding principles for 63 years,” the message continues.
After expressing its gratitude for the messages of trust and solidarity it has received, the UCA announced that beginning Aug. 16 it is suspending “all academic and administrative activities until it is possible to resume them in an ordinary way.”
Nicaraguan lawyer and researcher Martha Patricia Molina posted Aug. 16 on X a picture of UCA staff taking down a large crucifix from the wall of the university chapel, explaining that this was done to “safeguard all the religious and sacred content” of the chapel in order to “avoid any future desecration by the Sandinista dictatorship.”
Just days prior to the expropriation, the dictatorship froze the university’s bank accounts and then blocked any real estate transactions.
In an Aug. 16 statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, McFields, who is also a former student of the Central American University, said the seizure was an attack “on the Catholic Church, the faith of the people, and the hearts of Nicaraguans.”
McFields pointed out that the university was expropriated because it was “a prophetic voice that condemned the crimes of the dictatorship, corruption.”
However, he stressed that “the persecuted Church has revitalized its faith.”
Félix Maradiaga, a former political prisoner and former Nicaraguan presidential candidate, told ACI Prensa Aug. 16 that the recent confiscation of the UCA is also “a very serious action that represents a blow to education and freedom of thought in Nicaragua” and that “it is crucial to mobilize international support for the Central American University.”
“There are already several people and organizations that are working to obtain the necessary support to face this difficult reality. We have urged the international community, governments, human-rights organizations, and people committed to freedom and education at the hemispheric level to join our call for solidarity and support for the UCA,” the political leader said.
He also urged that “the voice of the world rise up in defense of this valuable institution” and oppose “the unjustified attacks of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship.”
The Central American Province of the Society of Jesus said in an Aug. 16 statement posted on X that “the serious accusations against the Jesuit university of Nicaragua are totally false and unfounded.”
The province stated that the “de facto confiscation of the UCA is the price to pay for the search for a more just society, protecting the life, truth, and freedom of the Nicaraguan people in keeping with its motto: The truth will set you free (John 8:32).”
The province noted that this “aggression” by the dictatorship led by Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, “is not an isolated event” but rather “is part of a series of unjustified attacks against the Nicaraguan population and other educational and social institutions of civil society.”
The province pointed out that as of April 2018, “as a consequence of its stance in defense of the lives of people who were being repressed by state and parapolice forces, the UCA has been the object of constant siege, harassment, and hassling by the Nicaraguan government institutions.”
The Jesuits emphasized that “it’s necessary and essential” that the UCA be allowed to “exercise its inalienable right to legitimate defense against said accusations.”
They also urged that “the drastic, unexpected, and unjust measure adopted by the judicial body be immediately reversed and corrected” and that “the growing government aggression against the university and its members cease.”
The Jesuits also called for seeking “a rational solution in which truth, justice, dialogue, and the defense of academic freedom prevail.”
“God is the one who has the last word on history and he will also have the last word on Nicaragua,” the Jesuits of Central America said.
Established in 1960 by the Society of Jesus, the UCA is the first private university in Nicaragua. Throughout its history, it has taught generations of professionals and was a home to opposition to the dynastic Somoza dictatorship until the dictatorship’s demise in 1979. It also contributed to the process of returning to democracy in the 1990s and denounced the injustices and repression during the anti-government protests in Nicaragua in 2018, in which at least 300 people lost their lives.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA. CNA staff also contributed to this story.