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Teachers under surveillance, dismissed and harassed denounce political pressures from the Ministry of Education

More 140 teachers have been fired since 2018; some have gone into exile in the face of the harassment: “I didn’t have a life there,” said one teacher

Ana Rivas no longer works as a teacher. She left her native Condega, in Estelí, because she “didn’t have a life” during the days of police surveillance conducted against her. Xiomara Alonso chose to devote herself to her religious congregation. Eddy Rivera continues to denounce the abuses endured by his colleagues in the schools, even if it means seeing a patrol car in front of his house almost every day. All three dedicated decades of their lives to educating others, but the Ministry of Education (Mined) fired them for questioning the control of the Sandinista Front.

Their dismissals occurred in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. They are part of 140 teachers who were stripped of their positions, without justification. The “sweeping” of educators in universities, primary and secondary schools occurred after the 2018 protests. However, the Mined continues to expel those who criticize the current situation of the country. In mid-May, it fired a teacher from Juigalpa and another from Carazo.

Teacher Ana Rivas was one of the first to be fired, after the most convulsive months of the 2018 protests. Her 17 years of teaching as a librarian, high school teacher, and principal have earned her recognition from the population of the municipality. When she was handed her letter of dismissal, she was working at the Maristas Padre Andrés Weller Institute in Condega.

From her exile in the United States, she recalls that the departmental authorities of the Ministry of Education justified her dismissal as “lack of ethics”. However, verbally, they told her that it was retaliation for marching against the government and supporting the students through her social networks.

The decision of the Mined aroused anger among her students, who went out to protest in dissatisfaction of the dismissals. Two other teachers also had their contracts cancelled.

“I was directly involved in the marches, in the protests in the municipality of Condega, department of Estelí, I supported whatever I could to somehow protest against all the things that were happening at that time. As a result, on August 28, I received a notification from the Ministry of Education (Mined) that I was fired,” she says.

Days after the student protest, Ana was the only teacher that the Ministry of Education reinstated, but it did so under the warning that she should not be involved in any more marches.

“The representative of the Ministry of Education at that time (…) came to Maristas High School, and directly told me, that I could not protest, that I could not state my opinion on any social network, because otherwise I would be totally fired from the Ministry of Education”, she says.

La docente Ana Rivas fue despedida en 2018 por sumarse a las marchas cívicas contra el régimen orteguista en Condega, Estelí.
Foto: cortesía

Although she accepted the reinstatement, she was only there for a few months and resigned in January 2019. The paramilitary siege forced her into exile. There was no need to reflect any longer after the Ortega police captured her son, 18 years old at the time, and she suffered the impotence of not knowing what to do. She recalls that the police representative warned her in his office that if they continued marching, they had the authority to mount any case, that “we’d better be careful,” she says.

“The sieges by the police were constant in my house. They came to threaten me, with the paramilitaries carrying the flag of the Sandinista Front; I didn’t have a life there. If I went out, I went out in fear”. But that fear prompted her to travel with her two children to the United States, where she is currently seeking political asylum; a long and tedious process. Her sister is her pillar, in a country that until March 2019 was unknown to her.

La docente Ana Rivas se exilió a Estados Unidos en 2019, tras el asedio de la Policía y paramilitares.
Foto: cortesía

Xiomara Alonso López: Fired for claiming frozen salaries

Xiomara Alonso López dreamed of becoming a doctor, but at the age of twelve she became a community educator and began to “play being a teacher” with the children of Barrio Orontes Centeno, in Tipitapa.

She worked as an empirical teacher for 18 years while training at a normal school at the same time, and later went on to obtain her master’s degree in Early Childhood Pedagogy at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua. 

The games she played as a child led her to find her vocation. She trained students and teachers in the classrooms of UNAN-Managua for 36 years, where she served as an hourly professor.

On Monday, January 28, 2019, she participated in an Interlearning Pedagogical Meeting (EPI), in which authorities of the Mined tried to explain, at their convenience, the impact of the fiscal reform approved that year. Xiomara, aware of the freezing of salaries in the teaching sector and the impact that the measure would have, asked for the floor and argued her disagreement. At the end of her speech, her colleagues applauded and Xiomara felt supported. 

Two days later, on Wednesday, January 30, she was handed her letter of dismissal as an elementary school teacher at the Loma Verde School in Tipitapa. The document did not cite any article of the law, and only said that the Ministry of Education had terminated her services, nothing more. Xiomara, who at some point defined herself as a militant of the Sandinista Front, always maintained a critical vision, a characteristic that clashed with the leadership of the Mined authorities.

Teacher Xiomara Alonso was fired by the Ministry of Education. She won her reinstatement, but the Mined liquidated her.

She questioned that colleagues allowed children to participate in political acts, that they were taken to marches, that the little ones waved flags for some partisan event. “Children are not educated in the streets, the teacher has to be inside the classroom,” she assures.

“When you are a critical person, they begin to see you as an enemy, and that’s how it was. I felt alone, I felt like I was the only one who disagreed because the teachers, even though they didn’t agree, were already silent, they were already afraid,” she says. 

With the April Rebellion, she did not hesitate to be part of the avalanche of citizens who demanded a structural change in the country, she questioned the version of the authorities who distorted the reality of the crisis and came to the schools with that discourse. Teacher Xiomara fought for her reinstatement, and against all odds, she won, but it was not admitted by the Ministry and it liquidated her. 

She retired from the teaching profession, but like the other teachers, she also suffered harassment and as a consequence, her health deteriorated and now she remains under strict care.

Professor Xiomara Alonso identified with the Sandinista Front, but was also critical of the abuses they committed. This displeased the authorities of the Ministry of Education. Photo: courtesy

Eddy Rivera Castillo: “In their eyes, I made a mistake. In my eyes, this is a source of pride” 

Eddy’s dismissal was in response to an attempt to challenge the dominance of the National Association of Educators of Nicaragua (Anden), the political arm of the Sandinista Front, in the country’s schools. Tired of the corruption and lack of protection of teachers’ rights that Anden was supposed to provide, he and other teachers founded the Sindicato de la Unidad y Dignidad del Magisterio Granadino (Union for the Unity and Dignity of Teachers of Granada). 

Rivera was designated as the union’s representative, and his signature endorsed all the documents they submitted to the Ministry of Labor (Mitrab) to legalize the union. One year later, they are still waiting for a response. 

The letter of dismissal presented to him was concise, he recalls that he was told that he would no longer work for the Mined in two lines, without any legal support. He considered the act as unfair and did not sign it.

During his teaching career, he is proud of never having kept quiet in the face of arbitrariness, despite the fact that this meant ending 30 years of teaching Language and Literature from one day to the next. 

“For them – the authorities – I made a mistake, for me it is a source of pride. It was founding a union in the city of Granada, which is the Union of Unity and Dignity of the Teachers of Granada. We filled all the requirements demanded by the Ministry of Labor, we brought all the documentation and now it is sleeping the sleep of the righteous”, he claimed.

Teacher Eddy Rivera, tired of the helplessness of Sandinista union Anden, formed another union, but the only response he received was his dismissal. Confidencial: courtesy

Rivera thought about demanding his reinstatement, but he knew he would not get positive results because he would run into the same system that fired him without reasons on January 31, 2020. Since that date, the police siege has not stopped. A patrol car is parked in front of his house almost every day. The reasons for this surveillance, he speculates, may be related to the fact that years ago he was the political secretary of the Sandinista Front of a sector in Granada, and now he is an opponent.

He recognizes that the teaching profession is not going through good times and says that many colleagues live under surveillance by a small group of “Andenistas” teachers – in reference to the Anden union – who denounce teachers who do not follow the decisions of the Ministry of Education. He compares these vigilantes to “state security officers inside the schools”; they are the same ones who warn teachers that they “must take care of their work”. 

The three teachers consulted by CONFIDENCIAL assured that after months, the Ministry of Education paid them their social benefits. However, there are teachers who still have not been paid.

Dismissals of teachers lack legal justification

None of the dismissal letters of the three teachers who spoke to CONFIDENCIAL cites any article that supports the decision. Lawyer José Antonio López has defended several cases of dismissed teachers and has filed 15 legal appeals with requests for reinstatement. None has prospered. He points out that since April 2018 there were “blatant dismissals and without cause, without complying with due process”.

According to Law 114 or Teaching Career Law, having a stable position is included among the rights of teachers, which means that they cannot be removed or dismissed without just cause; a fact that contradicts the arbitrary dismissals committed by the Mined during the last three years.

The law contemplates that among the causes for removal and suspension are retirement or disability, acceptance of another position that is incompatible with the one held, abandonment of the position or repeated non-compliance, as well as crimes established in the Penal Code. None of these mentions political reprisal.

“They apply a figure that is for private enterprise, which is law 45. From there, this is illegal because it has no basis, it is not adjusted from the legal point of view, where the norm tells you.. The Political Constitution tells you (that you have the right) to be judged in accordance with the law, and what is the law that regulates teachers? The Teaching Career Law”, questions the specialist in Labor Law.

The teacher Lesbia Rodriguez, general secretary of the Teachers Union Unity, explains that teachers are fired for not obeying the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education.

“Now, the apologies that they are given… they are only told: ‘you disobeyed, they have seen you in marches, they saw you on social networks’, that is the only reason why the teacher is fired. When the teacher asks for an explanation as to why they are being fired, what article is being applied to them, they say, ‘No, the order comes from above and we just obey it,’ she said.

The cost of layoffs: lower educational quality

Teacher layoffs also exacerbate the chronic crisis of educational quality in Nicaragua. In the universities, researchers are lost, and in the schools, those with more experience or who have developed critical thinking are being dismissed.

“We are far below the regional average. Why is this? Because we don’t have enough competent teachers to give students the right training. We already had a quality problem. If we add that generally, those who are fired are those who have an opinion, those who express their opinion, what message are we giving?” reflects education specialist Melba Castillo. 

“In terms of education, if we are forcing an authoritarian, vertical, rigid education, which only listens to what is said in the book and on many occasions is a personality cult, what thinking capacity are we giving to the students? I don’t think we are giving them any. It seems to me that we all have to fight, and look for ways to educate citizens, and to educate citizens we also need to educate citizen teachers” she expresses. 

However, there is a fear of contradicting the authorities among the teaching profession, because they know that they risk being fired. Teacher Eddy points out that their cases serve as examples for others. Teacher Xiomara indicates that as long as they do not “lose their fear” they will continue “playing with their dignity”. But even if he or she thinks differently, the situation in Nicaragua does not make it easy for a teacher to resign, teacher Ana explains. 

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff

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