As Nicaragua, one of the poorest nations in the Americas, is preparing for a general election in November, [President Daniel] Ortega has ramped up a broad repression of dissenting voices.
Now many fear Mr. Ortega may go after his last formidable opponent in Nicaraguan society: the Catholic Church.
On July 30, during a ceremony commemorating the founding of Nicaragua’s air force, Mr. Ortega attacked the church in a convoluted speech rife with Biblical references. “They were the ones who went into exile, and every day they are exiling themselves more. They were Pharisees,” Mr. Ortega said, according to the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa. “Christ called them Pharisees when he found them in the temple and whipped them out and the Pharisees have not disappeared, there they are walking in elegant dress and talking as if these were saints, the Nicaraguan clergy. They have no respect at all for Christ, no respect for God.”
The Archdiocese of Managua, in turn, sharply criticized the government in a statement released on 10 August. The archdiocese’s Justice and Peace Commission accused the regime of curtailing freedom of speech, jailing opponents, restricting the visas of foreign priests in the country, and making free and fair elections in November all but impossible. It also accused the Ortegas of mismanaging the Covid-19 pandemic and relief efforts in the wake of a series of devastating hurricanes that hit Central America last year. As a result, the letter said, desperate Nicaraguans are leaving the country by the thousands.
“Yes, we are afraid, there’s no denying that,” said the Rev. Carlos Avilés, the vicar of the Archdiocese of Managua. “We’re the only sector in the country that the regime has not cracked down on yet. Signs have increased over the past few years that they’re planning to persecute the church as well.”
So far the regime has not yet physically attacked or jailed any priests or senior church officials, but many priests, such as Father Avilés, believe it may just be a matter of time.
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Jan-Albert Hootsen is America’s Mexico City correspondent.
With thanks to America and Jan-Albert Hootsen, where this article originally appeared.