In Nicaragua, the Catholic Church is one of the most critical voices of President Daniel Ortega’s actions, denouncing reprisals, murders, and human rights violations in the country.
The Church’s remarks are a “major annoyance” to Ortega, who sees its members as his enemies for denouncing the truth, said to Diálogo Marcos Carmona, president of Nicaragua’s Permanent Commission on Human Rights.
“Throughout 2019, the Nicaraguan president intensified harassment and violence against Catholic churches that sided with people who took to the streets to express their disagreement with the Sandinista regime’s authoritarian actions,” Carmona said.
Nicaraguan bishops served as mediators in meetings between the state and civil society to find a peaceful resolution to the sociopolitical crisis the nation has been going through for two years. Talks were suspended in the spring of 2018, after security forces’ repression against the population escalated and public protests were criminalized.
Ortega blamed the Catholic clergy of being “pro-coup” for supporting injured protesters during the 2018 protests, according to Nicaraguan state media El 19 Digital. The government onslaught against the religious institution includes priests, nuns, and parishioners. Edwin Román, a priest at the Saint Michael Church in Masaya, told the press that the wave of violence the Church experiences surpasses the attacks it faced in the 1980s, during the civil war.
Ramón Alcides Peña, a pastor at the church in the municipality of Jícaro, was detained for 12 hours on December 7, charged with disrupting public order. The priest said on social media that he was celebrating mass as usual.
In November, followers of the Sandinista regime entered the Metropolitan Cathedral in Managua and attacked a priest and a nun. The same month, in Masaya, they attacked parishioners of the San Bautista parish, while police surrounded the Saint Michael the Archangel Church to prevent displays of solidarity with the priest Román and a group of mothers who went on a hunger strike for nine days to call for the release of their children, detained for demanding the end of the regime.
Ortega himself threatened the opposition. “The people will feel within their rights, with the obligation, to seek arms to take power through revolutionary means,” he said in November before the Political Councils’ assembly of the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA, in Spanish).
“I feel that it’s a real possibility. The more the doors for a peaceful road close, the wider they open for an armed one,” said Rafael Solís Cerda to French radio RFI. Solís was a guerrilla fighter with Ortega and a judge at Nicaragua’s Supreme Court for 19 years, until his resignation in February 2019.