Deserted buildings, empty classrooms and a lot of surveillance: this is how classes start at Casimiro Sotelo University

Despite the almost three-month registration and pre-registration period offered by Universidad Nacional Casimiro Sotelo Montenegro (Uncsm), most of the campus is empty and there are few students to teach

Universidad Casimiro Sotelo
The Food Park, one of the areas of the university where students gathered the most, is now empty on the first day of classes | Divergentes

Outside Universidad Nacional Casimiro Sotelo Montenegro (Uncsm), formerly Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), a crowd of people come and go. 

It is the morning of the first day of classes and the sun shines on the parents who are waiting outside the main entrance, since they are not allowed to enter. Other family members and friends who face the same restriction are also waiting.

The new guards wearing uniforms with the university logo only allow students to enter. Everyone else has to wait seated on the bleachers or on the outside gate of the new “people’s university”.

When I ask people what reason they give them for not allowing them to enter the campus, they say it is “to avoid chaos,” according to what the guards explain to them.

Recibe nuestro boletín semanal

Secrecy and surveillance now reign at Casimiro Sotelo

Deserted buildings, empty classrooms and a lot of surveillance: this is how classes start at Casimiro Sotelo University
Anyone who is not a student or a former student who must complete paperwork is not allowed to enter the campus | Divergentes | Taken from UNCSM

However, the real reason is because a few weeks ago, a parent complained about how poorly managed the university was, causing a discussion that ended in the total prohibition of anyone not directly linked to the university to enter the campus.

“What happened is that a parent started recording and defending his daughter because of a problem she had. It was a whole spectacle,” a former UCA student explains.

“A friend of mine who was processing her diploma was handed a paper that she should not have been given and instead of asking her to give it back, they took her documents and tore them into pieces in front of her,” she continues.

Today, however, there is no big scene happening at Uncsm. On the first day of classes for new and returning students, the Sandinista hosts have made it their mission to present the stolen university in the best possible light.

Sandinista propaganda floods campus

Given the number of people waiting at the entrance, it seems as if the institution that once belonged to the Jesuits is alive again after five months of inactivity. 

Upon entering the premises, the first thing you hear is the Sandinista propaganda coming from large speakers distributed throughout the buildings. “What we want is work and peace,” chant the speakers at full volume.

In the background, several groups of incoming students walk around the university. The tour is led by the new Sandinista collaborators who are replacing the professors who taught at UCA for years. Upon seeing them, not one face is familiar. They have all been replaced.

These new teachers wear a shirt and carry an ID card with the Casimiro Sotelo logo. As they tour the university, they also deliver the characteristic populist speech of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship about “free” education.

“By revolutionizing consciousness, we reach freedom!” They keep repeating, a phrase that is the slogan of Uncsm.

Several canopies are placed on the main court, where students’ schedules are located. Due to the lack of an institutional mail and a platform that indicates the classes and schedules, the new university provided printed instructions for students. 

The new administration disabled all of UCA’s digital platforms, including Online Services and Power Campus, where students could check their grades, register for classes, and check their schedules. Now no one can check their information online. 

At every step you see different people watching the university, be it teachers, cleaning or security staff. At all times they ask the people inside where they are going and what they are doing. The campus is guarded by suspicious eyes everywhere.

The Che Guevara gazebo

Deserted buildings, empty classrooms and a lot of surveillance: this is how classes start at Casimiro Sotelo University
The Expresso Americano store was renamed “Kiosko Che Guevara”. Divergentes | Photo taken from social media

I continue walking and the music changes to one of the regime’s favorites: “respect my flag, the blue and white flag, which doesn’t have a single star”. The decoration inside the buildings not only has the new logos and slogan, but also Nicaraguan flags coupled with red and black ones. 

However, the highpoint of the propaganda comes at the former Expresso Americano store. With a sign that portrays the face of the Cuban revolution, now that small space where coffee and pastries were sold, is called the Che Guevara gazebo.

The stand where UCA used to sell its products, such as T-shirts, bottles and planners, was also renamed the Casimiro Montenegro stand. And the Xavier Gorostiaga auditorium, named after the Jesuit priest, is now called the Neysi de los Ángeles Ríos Olivares auditorium, a Sandinista figure. The dictatorship took care of erasing any Ignatian and Jesuit identity.

An empty university

Deserted buildings, empty classrooms and a lot of surveillance: this is how classes start at Casimiro Sotelo University
Inside the campus, there is a notable absence of students| Divergentes

In the “aula magna”, dozens of students receive directions and information about the university’s services. For a moment, the university seems full and full of life. However, upon entering the depths of the campus, these new students are met with an educational void, and a lot of political indoctrination. 

Entire buildings cleared out, deserted classrooms and endless unoccupied benches and chairs show the greatest failure of the Ortega-Murillo regime: the desertion of thousands of students who decided to leave rather than study in a university taken over by the dictatorship.

Although there are several new students and some re-entry students at the university, the campus looks totally empty for the number of students it was created for. The almost three months of registration and pre-registration period was of no use to the new owners of Uncsm.

The absence of students is most noticeable in the areas where UCA used to host most of its occupants. “The runway”, “the forest” and the Food Park, where the essence of the student body was, are empty.

The picture looks bleak, of the 12 food stores built in the Food Park, only four are open. Most of them no longer have signs, indicating that they have abandoned the business altogether. The few stores that remain open have half-full shelves and few students to sell to.

The King Dog, the iconic UCA store that sold hot dogs, churros, burgers and soft drinks to students, is also gone. This business was one of the oldest in the university and several generations of students were its loyal customers because of its affordable prices. 

Although it survived the beginning of the socio-political crisis in 2018, the inauguration of the Food Park and the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, it closed facing this change of administration. The new generations of the now called Casimiro Sotelo will not know it.

Since the beginning of the crisis, several business in the university have closed. The mini-supermarket, Pepe’s, Casa del Café, PBS, and now the Food Park and Hispamer stores, are a reminder of how unprofitable UCA was becoming and the confirmation that now they have no one to sell to.

The cafeteria, the university’s own food business that was the lunch spot for many students and faculty, is now cleared out and has little to offer.

Propaganda is now a didactic theme

Universidad Casimiro Sotelo
Only a few small re-entry groups occupy the premises, and they are now being taught about the life of Casimiro Sotelo | Divergentes

Of the surroundings of former UCA, the only thing that remains besides the buildings are cats, formerly fed by students themselves. They are now totally abandoned.

The old hallways are no longer alive. Some classrooms are occupied, but the view is not so encouraging. Videos and presentations about Casimiro Sotelo are the new welcome for students. “He was a university leader, a leader of the revolution,” says one of the teachers.

In the few classrooms that are being used, all the professors start with the same lecture: the story of Casimiro Sotelo and his contribution to the popular Sandinista revolution. After the lecture, they go on to talk again about “good government” and finally, they continue with their teaching subjects.

Although the new authorities have tried to conceal the abandonment suffered by the campus in recent months, it is impossible not to notice the loneliness in which it has been immersed. Dry lawns, dusty buildings and unopened classrooms are the main signs that this institution is going to be difficult to maintain.

The UCA law office, also stripped of its legal status, is probably the place that looks most abandoned, along with the UCA Language Institute, which also ceased operations and left dozens of students hanging.

Walking towards the exit, one can take a last look at this place that was the beginning of the discontent against the Ortega dictatorship and the watchful eyes return my gaze. Not all Nicaraguans are welcome at the “people’s university”.

The information we publish in DIVERGENTES comes from contrasted sources. Due to the situation in the region, many times, we are forced to protect them under pseudonymity or anonymity. Unfortunately, some governments in the region, including the Nicaraguan regime, do not provide information or censor independent media. For this reason, despite requesting it, we cannot rely on official, authorized versions. We resort to data analysis, anonymous internal sources, or limited information from the official media. These are the conditions under which we exercise a profession that, in many cases, costs us our safety and our lives. We will continue to report.