Nicaragua. A Church that suffers

In recent months the Nicaraguan government has been pressuring the Church more intensely. Various organizations, from the UN to the European Union, denounce the situation in various reports.

Javier Garcia-October 20, 2022-Reading time: 7 minutes

In 2018, serious citizen protests originated after the government's decision to lower pensions by 5 % and increase corporate taxes. Police violence then left more than 300 dead and 2,000 injured, who by government order could not be treated in hospitals. The dispensaries of the Daughters of Charity were the only places that attended to the wounded and became the main reason why the government of Ortega decided to expel them from the country in June 2022. In addition, in the face of government repression, many demonstrators only found refuge in churches, as priests opened the doors of their parishes to them. A report by the United Nations reported on the serious human rights crisis that was taking place. 

A recent report

More recently, the report by Nicaraguan lawyer Martha Patricia Molina, titled Nicaragua: a persecuted Church? (2018-2022)noted that "Before April 2018, attacks on the Church were sporadic. After that date, hostilities increased and escalated. The offensive and threatening language of the presidential couple against the Catholic hierarchy became more and more evident and frequent; and the actions of some public institutions against the charitable work of the church increased." 

And the fact is that in "countries with authoritarian tendencies, as in Nicaraguathe Church is presented as one of the few, if not the only institution that enjoys greater credibility and, therefore, its level of influence among the population is seen as a danger to government control."In an interview with Omnes, attorney Teresa Flores, director of the Observatory of Religious Freedom in Latin America (OLIRE), whose mission is to promote religious freedom and publicize restrictions to this right in the region.

In the years prior to Ortega's presidency, the Church did not suffer frontal attacks. However, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) since 2018 there are almost 200 personal attacks and desecrations each year. However, Martha Patricia Molina's report indicates that the study's figures would be far below the real ones. In fact, she points out that this number would probably have to be multiplied by a factor of ten, due to the scarce denunciations and the lack of publicity of such denunciations. "We found cases where priests tired of the thefts and desecrations decided to denounce only the last of them. Others have chosen to remain silent, as they do not believe in Nicaragua's judicial system."the study states.

The last few weeks

In recent weeks the government has intensified the surveillance of parishes that has existed for years. Many of them have police patrols at the door during Sunday masses. If the priest does not keep a delicate balance with respect to the situation in the country, the faithful are forbidden to enter the ceremonies. In fact, in the month of September the government has even banned processions in several parishes in Managua that are particularly critical of the government.

In this way, the authorities try to pressure priests not to denounce the abuses committed. A situation that has generated more than 150,000 refugees, most of them displaced to neighboring Costa Rica. One of the latest episodes, as this issue went to press, is the request for asylum of 50 Nicaraguan priests in Honduras and Costa Rica. They fear for their safety after the police ask for them in their parishes several days a week with the purpose of arresting or coercing them. 

According to sources present in the country consulted by Omnes for the preparation of this article, there is much fear on the part of the population that the Ortega regime will raise the tension to the point that the death of a religious leader is to be regretted. "There are no limits for this government"they say. The churches, for their part, have asked for the support of the faithful to maintain constant vigilance for the safety of priests.. "In my community." points out a citizenThe parish priest is very critical of the arbitrary actions of the Ortega government and in the last week the police and paramilitary groups have visited the church to ask for the priest to talk to him. But that is a lie, what they want is to arrest him. This situation is going on in the whole Nicaraguan territory.".

Pope Francis noted on the return flight from his trip to Kazakhstan that there is still dialogue between the Nicaraguan Church and the country's civil authorities, but it does not seem that an agreement to achieve a peaceful coexistence will be easy to reach.

A long conflict

Daniel Ortega's first term as president of Nicaragua took place between 1985 and 1990. In 2007 he won the elections again, forming a leftist government heir to Sandinismo. In 2012, 2017 and 2021 he again won the election victory, although irregularities in the elections presented increasing doubts to international observers. Finally, the results of the November 2021 elections were accepted without reservations only by Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Russia.

In recent years Ortega has taken control of the judiciary and has persecuted political and journalistic opponents, as well as civil associations not aligned with the regime. The Nicaraguan Catholic Church has tried to play as constructive a role as possible, but over time it has become the only public voice sufficiently authorized to denounce attacks on human rights. 

Since last summer, the Nicaraguan crisis has frequently made headlines around the world. The expulsion of the missionaries of charity and the arrest of Bishop Rolando Álvarez have been particularly noteworthy. 

Many authoritative voices have called for changes to the Sandinista regime. In September, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on the situation in Nicaragua. It denounced the abuses of the regime since March 2022. On the other hand, in August, more than 26 former heads of state and government from Spain and Latin America published a letter showing their concern and asking Pope Francis to condemn the abuses committed. 

However, perhaps the most surprising reprobation of those that have been expressed so far has been the one issued by the European Parliament on September 14. This is the sixth resolution on Nicaragua so far this term. The countries of the European Union have more and more common legislation, however, foreign policy is an area where it is not easy to reach consensus, especially when it comes to assessing the conflicts of third countries. The history and interests of each nation often make it difficult to reach a common opinion. Of course, there are exceptions, such as the positions on Venezuela or the Arab-Israeli conflict and, more recently, the war in Ukraine, although in this case it is easily understandable because of the fear that an expansion of Russian influence arouses in all its members. 

Tough state repression

The Proposal for a joint resolutionissued by the European Parliament on September 14, consists of seven pages and condemns political and religious repression. The initiative was supported by seven of the five groups of deputies in the chamber: Popular, Socialists, Renewal, Greens and Reformists. It obtained 538 votes in favor, 16 against and 28 abstentions.

As the language of the document is crystal clear and very forceful, its main contents are transcribed directly below: "Parliament condemns in the strongest terms the repression and arrests of members of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, in particular the arrest of Bishop Rolando Alvarez.". But the resolution not only denounces the facts, but also ".urges the Nicaraguan regime to immediately end the repression and restore full respect for all human rights, including freedom of expression, religion and belief; calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all victims of arbitrary detention, including Bishop Alvarez and those detained with him, and for the annulment of all judicial proceedings against them and the sentences imposed". 

The European parliamentarians have a very definite vision of the events that have taken place in the Central American country. They understand that there is a "continued deterioration of the situation in Nicaragua and the escalation of repression against the Catholic Church, opposition personalities, civil society, human rights defenders, journalists, peasants, students and indigenous peoples".. Repression includes the "arbitrary detention solely for exercising their fundamental freedoms, the inhuman and degrading treatment they receive, and the deterioration of their health conditions". 

Cancellation of the civil society

The European parliamentarians consider that "since 2018, the Nicaraguan regime has systematically and repeatedly practiced imprisonment, harassment and intimidation against presidential pre-candidates, opposition leaders and religious leaders, particularly from the Catholic Church, as well as against students and rural leaders, journalists, human rights defenders, civil society organizations, LGBTI people and business representatives"

In addition to controlling the judiciary, President Ortega is literally shutting down civil organizations, which is why the European Parliament "regrets that on September 7, 2022, another 100 NGOs were closed, bringing the total number of NGOs closed in Nicaragua this year to 1,850; calls on the Nicaraguan regime to end the arbitrary closure of NGOs and civil society organizations and to restore legal status to all organizations, political parties, religious organizations, media and their associations, universities, and human rights organizations that have been arbitrarily shut down".

From Europe, the "highlights the key role played by civil society, human rights defenders, journalists and members of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua", and "calls on the Nicaraguan regime to urgently allow international organizations to return to the country, in particular the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.".


The European Union calls for "that Nicaraguan judges and prosecutors be promptly included in the list of persons sanctioned by the Union and that the list of sanctioned persons and entities be expanded to include Daniel Ortega and his closest circle.".

Although surely the aspect where the seriousness of the facts is best seen is shown in the petition of the European Union parliamentarians "....the Member States of the Union and the United Nations Security Council, in accordance with Articles 13 and 14 of the Rome Statute, to open a formal investigation into Nicaragua and Daniel Ortega through the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity".

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