By Josey Diaz
A deadly student-led protest almost a year ago at FSW’s partner university in Nicaragua has temporarily derailed a three-year-old study abroad program and curbed the desire of some FSW faculty to teach
Sparked by social security cutbacks, students at Universidad Politecnica de Nicaragua and other universities began the April 19th Movement. They fought police with makeshift mortar-launchers and Molotov cocktails, demanding the ousting of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega for his abusive, dictator-like rule that has plagued the country throughout much of its young history.
FSW students spent 12 days on the Universidad Politecnica campus only a few weeks before the protests began on April 12.
Bruno Baltodano, a professor of political science at FSW led three student trips to UPOLI to research, take classes and experience Nicaraguan culture on spring breaks from 2016 to 2018.
“[The protests] were very personal to me,” said Baltodano. “It was personal to the students at FSW, it was personal to my students at UPOLI, and it was personal to the students brought here by our institution.”
As a result of the protest, the U.S. Department of State recommended against travel to Nicaragua. Such travel advisories are issued when crime, civil unrest, limited healthcare availability and arbitrary enforcement of the law make a country dangerous.
FSW has suspended the spring-break study trips Baltodano led until the advisory is lifted. FSW faculty are free to teach at UPOLI. Batlodano still teaches classes there in the summer.
Baltodano, who visited UPOLI over spring break this month, says that the April 19th Movement has had a serious effect on policy and civil life in Nicaragua. In September 2018, public protesting was made illegal in Nicaragua and was labeled a form terrorism.
“It’s good in the sense that there is no military presence in the city, but it’s bad also because protest is a form of freedom of expression that should be protected,” said Baltodano. “But that doesn’t exist in Nicaragua right now.”
When the protests and violence broke out in Nicaragua last year, three UPOLI faculty members and an administrator were visiting FSW to sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the two schools.
The MOA is a pact signed by institutions in order to form an understanding of an agreement. In this case, it was for a faculty exchange program and updating study abroad trips.
The protest at UPOLI during that week distracted the visiting faculty, but they were able to get the MOA signed. Still, FSW professors are less keen on teaching in Nicaragua, especially in Managua, where the April 19th Movement happened.
“As far as I know, so far, no other faculty members are currently considering going to teach over there, so, that is not because they can’t but they’re not relying on it,” said Baltodano. “What happened in Nicaragua deterred a lot of people from considering travelling there”.
Once the Department of State restriction is lifted, travel abroad sponsored events by FSW can resume to UPOLI.