Ahead of presidential vote, Nicaraguan bishops say free elections not possible


ROME – Nicaragua is getting ready for Nov. 7 presidential elections that, for all intents and purposes, are a charade: There’s only one candidate, President Daniel Ortega, who is seeking a third term.

Every other candidate who dared voice interest in running for president was imprisoned in recent months, before the campaign actually began.

Nicaraguan bishops’ conference said earlier this week the “basic and indispensable conditions for the holding of free, fair and transparent elections” are not being met in the country.

“An authentic democracy is the result of the convinced acceptance of values such as the dignity of the person, respect for human rights, the search for the common good as the goal and regulatory criterion of the politics of life,” the bishops wrote. “If there is no generalized consensus on these values, the meaning of democracy is lost and its stability is compromised.”

RELATED: Nicaragua’s President Ortega calls bishops ‘terrorists’

They also argued that institutions are not “secondary” in a democratic state, and they are only respected when there’s an unrestricted compliance with the law, characterized by the independence and separation of State powers.

In a message entitled “Help comes to me from the Lord” addressed “to priests, religious, nuns, laity and all men and women loved by the Lord,” the bishops urge all Nicaraguans to decide and act “according to the inviolable dignity of their conscience, with freedom,” and to do so in favor of what each individual considers most just and convenient at this moment for Nicaragua.

“With the heart of pastors, we walk among the people of God, experiencing the difficult situations that Nicaraguans live. We are close to the sick, to the families disintegrated by forced emigration, to the unemployed, to the refugees, to the exiles, to those deprived of freedom and their families,” the bishops write. At the end of the message, the Nicaraguan prelates recall that “prayer is our strength” and exhort to intensify the moments of prayer in homes, families and communities.

Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Matagalpa, and former president of the bishops conference, spoke about the country’s upcoming elections during his homily on Sunday, calling on “every Nicaraguan to respond” if the conditions truly exist “for free elections in Nicaragua” and act accordingly, following “the inviolable dignity of their conscience.”

“In our Nicaragua we are living dramatic moments where you see sick people, families disintegrated by forced migration, unemployment, refugees, exiles and deprived of freedom with what their families and the whole society suffer,” Alvarez said.

Tension between the government and the Catholic Church has been increasing since the 2018 civil revolt against Ortega that saw around 300 people killed, thousands imprisoned and tens of thousands fleeing the country, targeted by pro-government militants.

The archdiocese of Managua has often denounced the systematic violation of political and constitutional rights and the persecution unleashed by the Ortega regime against opponents. In recent weeks, however, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes has been quiet, as he’s still recovering from a serious case of COVID-19.

His illness prevented him from coming to Rome in early October to meet with Pope Francis when he met with the leadership of of the Latin American bishops’ conference, CELAM. Brenes is the vice president of the conference.

Speaking from exile in Miami, the auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio José Báez, on Sunday called for those who submissively obey “miserable tyrants and oppressors” to overcome their “ideological blindness.”

From St. Agatha’s Church he spoke about the miracle of Jesus healing the blindness of Bartimaeus.

“We are blind when we insist on saying we are well, when in reality we are not,” Baez said in his homily. “We are blind when we think we are happy and in reality we are unhappy and worthy of pity.”

“In political life there is the ideological blindness of those who do not think for themselves and let the leader or the party do the thinking for them. In moments of important political decisions in the life of the nation, those who obey submissively and act lightly are ideologically blind, without asking themselves in conscience if with their decision they are collaborating in the construction of a more just society and the strengthening of a democratic and pluralistic system,” said Baez.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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