Saturday 30 September 2023

Ortega Confiscates Nicaraguan Historical Institute

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30 September 2023 - At The Banks - Source: BCCR

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Q24N — Victor Hugo Acuña was fascinated with the exploits of William Walker and his travels through Nicaragua and Central America during the 19th century, long before he became a renowned historian in Costa Rica and Central America. As he looked into this episode, it struck him as strange that the narrative of this story varied between Central American nations and the United States.

View of the confiscated building of the Institute of History of Nicaragua and Central America, at the UCA. Photo: Taken from the UCA

Acuña, who had portrayed former Costa Rican president Juan Rafael Mora (1849 – 1959) in a school play, chose to research and compare the stories of Walker’s imperialist activities.

William Walker, an American citizen, arrived in Nicaragua in 1855. One year later, following an unauthorized military operation, he proclaimed himself President of Nicaragua. He then decreed English as the official language and demanded that the city of Granada be set on fire.

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“If I hadn’t had access to the Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamérica (IHNCA-UCA) – Nicaraguan and Central American Historical Institute at the Central American University, I wouldn’t have been able to do that work. I also had access to a lot of books from the United States. That research later became a book and a number of articles,” the historian explained.

In 1978, Acuña completed his studies in History from the Paris-based School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences. Presently, he is a part of the faculty and a professor emeritus at the University of Costa Rica. He has voiced his disapproval concerning the seizure of the Central American University, which was previously managed by the Jesuits, and where the IHNCA-UCA is located. This institute has a substantial collection of nearly 70,000 books and other resources which are of great value for historical research.

On August 16, 2023, the Daniel Ortega regime took control of the entire campus and assets of the UCA after freezing the university’s accounts a few days prior. A judge declared the university a “terrorist center” and ordered the confiscation of all its goods.

Within hours, the state had seized the premises, renamed it the “Casimiro Sotelo” State University, and replaced the UCA flag with the flag of the ruling party. A ceremony was held to mark the “inauguration” of the new university, with the attendance of its new authorities and members of the Nicaraguan National Council of Universities.

Renamed “Heroes of Nicaragua” Historical Institute

On Wednesday, August 23, 2023, the Nicaraguan government announced the reopening of the IHNCA as the “Heroes of Nicaragua” Historical Institute. The former “Museum of the National Literacy Crusade” was installed to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of the event, and Vice President Rosario Murillo was featured in the official media to honor the occasion.

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“That space [The Literacy Crusade museum] was closed by the enemies of the blessed and always free homeland. Today it reopened, and there’s the mirror of what we are, where we’re going,” stated Murillo in her official monologue, referring to the rebaptizing of the IHNCA.

Prior to the rise of the Sandinista Party, many academics used the IHNCA for their research. Dr. Acuña has spent an extensive amount of time researching the economic, social and cultural history of Costa Rica and Central America, from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. To complete his work, Acuña has consulted documents in archives from multiple countries, including Nicaragua.

Repository of information from the sixteenth century

The IHNCA has its roots in the UCA, which was established 63 years ago. Manuel Ignacio Perezalonso and Alvaro Arguello, Jesuit priests, drove the development of its history and culture.

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In 2006, former Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños gave Perezalonso the Ruben Dario Order for his accomplishments in the fields of history and culture. Perezalonso also served as rector of the Ibero-American University in Mexico and director of the Society of Jesus’ Historical Archives in that country.

Arguello, a historian and educator, was a founding director of the IHNCA, and was known for his wisdom and humility.

Loss for Central America

Professor Alberto Cortés expressed his dismay at the Nicaraguan government’s aggressive stance towards anything that could “create independent thinking or provide an alternative to their brutality.”

This brutality is in reference to the repression the government has inflicted upon its citizens since the Social Security protests of 2018, where 355 people were killed according to the IACHR, 2,000 injured, and thousands were forced to flee.

In February 2023, 222 of the political prisoners were stripped of their nationality, declared “traitors to the homeland,” and exiled to the United States. The government has also closed 27 universities in two years, most recently the UCA.

Cortés spent three months at the IHNCA for a research project on geopolitics and was thankful for the kindness of the staff and the hard work of the institution’s authorities.

The attempt to impose an official vision of history

“The Ortega-Murillo regime can’t accept an interpretation of history and a construction of memory that’s not the one they wish to impose,” added Cortes, who said the news of the Institute’s confiscation had caused him “great sorrow.”

Historian Victor Hugo Acuña described the confiscation of the UCA as “a new tragedy” for Nicaragua and a great loss to science, culture, and Central American education. It is not just historians and academics that are affected, as the institution’s databases are used by journalists, educators, students, and others who seek information.

According to Acuña, the lack of access to historical archives that present multiple views can be detrimental to a country’s identity. In addition to the INHCA, the former UCA campus also houses the “Jose Coronel Urtecho” Library.

This documentation center has been used by thousands of university students over the years, allowing them to read texts on a variety of topics, consult printed collections, and even borrow materials.

Condemnation from Chile, Colombia, and the USA

The confiscation of the UCA was met with wide-spread criticism from various groups, including the governments of Chile, Colombia and the United States, academics, Nicaraguan and Central American society, and the highest authorities of the religious congregation that was directly affected.

The Society of Jesus stated that such actions are typical of totalitarian regimes and are false. Acuña noted that his work at the IHNCA allowed him to meet other Central American, Mexican, American, and European historians, which enriched his professional knowledge.

Furthermore, another Central American historian noted that the collection found in the IHNCA is a Nicaraguan patrimony, which was maintained by specialized personnel. Additionally, databases were also kept according to international standards, allowing for easy research.

Lastly, it was concluded that the center facilitated quality research, promoted innovative teaching, encouraged critical thinking, and fostered democratic spaces in classrooms.

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Q24N is an aggregator of news for Latin America. Reports from Mexico to the tip of Chile and Caribbean are sourced for our readers to find all their Latin America news in one place.

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