The criminalization of protest in Nicaragua is the most serious threat to peace and freedom, according to a message from the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Managua, presided by Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes.
Protesting, says the message of the priests, “has resulted in actions that attempt against human life, restrict people’s freedom and hide the truth, the facts, of our history since April 18, 2018,” expresses the statement.
The priests’ message is issued when the church lives a critical moment and is “persecuted” by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega. The persecution intensified when the massacre of students and self-organized people began in April 2018. The church moved to the side of the victims to protect life, as the bishop of Esteli, Abelardo Mata, told Confidencial two months ago.
In the midst of the crisis, when the dictatorship repressed the protests and imposed itself by gunpoint against the unarmed people who were protesting, four priests went into exile, dozens were threatened, many beaten and others lead their parishes amid besiegement and uncertainty.
The criminalization of protest not only meant debasement against those Nicaraguans who state their criticism to the Government, but also prison for exercising their rights, stated the priests. “Remember that the right to protest is not only a citizen right in accordance with our Constitution but is also a fundamental right of every human being,” said the members of the Archdiocese of Managua.
The true position of the Catholic Church
Political analyst and former opposition legislator, Elisio Nunez, warns that the true position of the Catholic Church, without diplomacy, is reflected in the message issued by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Managua.
“The bishops in their messages have tried to give a touch of diplomacy (to their messages) because they have the obligation as technical representatives of the Vatican, which is a State, of maintaining certain margins in language. However, the priests, who have day by day contact with the people, are aware of what is happening and that is why this Commission used this clear language that leaves no doubt in their position,” Nunez told Confidencial.
Nunez recalled that during the worst days of the crisis the most identified with the population were the Catholic clergymen. He noted that the Catholic Church “is a reference in what is the struggle for ideas, the struggle for social peace in Nicaragua.”
The message of the priests comes at a time when Cardinal Brenes has avoided confronting the dictatorship directly. “He has seen the signs of the times,” says sociologist Jose Luis Rocha about the Cardinal.
These changes of signals, according to Rocha, have come as “a result of the work of Silvio Baez (auxiliary bishop of Managua, forced by the Pope to go into exile in Rome) back there in the Vatican. There are church leaders there who now have a more defined position against this regime,” Rocha said.
The siege against the temples
The regime wants to retain power at any cost, the priests denounce in their message. “They are not limited only to eventual marches and mobilizations,” they also besiege the population, “the independent media and specifically against Catholic temples where the faithful congregate in their spiritual and pastoral activities,” the religious men specify.
One of the besieged churches has been San Miguel, led by father Edwin Roman in Masaya, one of the most threatened and harassed priests in the country. Ortega’s police also besiege Managua’s Cathedral and other temples of the country, the only spaces where people feel safe raising a flag or asking for freedom for political prisoners.
They ask for reinstatement of the dialogue
The priests expressed that to end the crisis that Nicaragua has experienced since 2018, when the dictatorship repressed peaceful protests and murdered more than 300 people, a real reconciliation and real dialogue are needed.
“We are moved by hope and confidence of believing that a state of sincere reconciliation and stable social coexistence is possible, if we turn to the Lord for good deeds, through a conversion that is put into practice by opening again the doors of an inclusive dialogue with all sectors of society,” concluded the religious leaders.