Nicaragua’s demons


Catholic Herald, 3 May 2018

The Ortega administration has asked Catholic bishops to mediate. Does this signal a new assertiveness in the Latin America Church?

Latin American cardinal recently denounced his government as “demonic, based on envy and every kind of evil”. Surely it must be Venezuela, where the regime of Nicolás Maduro has been repeatedly denounced by the country’s bishops?

Not this time. Those were the words of Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua, denouncing the regime of Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega this past Saturday. Which suggests that there might be a new boldness from Latin American bishops in the face of bad governance and human rights violations.

Nicaragua has been engulfed by mass protests in recent weeks, put down by the government with lethal force. Dozens of protestors have been killed and there are reports of torture of dissidents.

In mid-April the Ortega administration announced reforms to the country’s pension system, raising contributions and limiting pensions. Mass protests followed which the army was deployed to control, resulting in some 27 deaths. Ortega backed down on the pension proposals, but the protests continued against the violent government reaction.

The Church has strongly encouraged the protestors, with Bishop Silvio José Baez Ortega, auxiliary bishop of Managua, emerging as a vocal leader of protest. On April 21, he addressed 2,000 students in Managua cathedral, praising them as the “moral reservoir” of the Church.

Fr Víctor Rivas Bustamante of the Nicaraguan bishops’ conference told Vatican News that pension reform is no longer the primary issue, but the bishops are supporting the people as they demand action on “other issues … democracy, freedom of expression and many other things.”

On April 28, the Church herself led a “Peace and Justice” protest that rallied tens of thousands. Protests had been growing since the previous weekend when, according to Nicaragua’s Permanent Commission on Human Rights, at least 63 people were killed and more than 160 wounded by gunfire from government forces.

In response, the already massive protests have escalated, with demands growing that Ortega himself step down. Ortega was the Sandinista junta leader of Nicaragua in the 1980s. He returned as elected president in 2007, and is now in his third five-year term in office, having abolished term limits in 2014. His wife, Rosario Murillo, is vice-president.

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