Ahead of Nov. 7 vote, Nicaraguan bishops say ‘meaning of democracy is lost’

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ROME – Catholic bishops and other clergy are sounding the alarm ahead of Nov. 7 presidential elections being described by the European Union as “fake.”

Days before the elections, the bishops released yet another statement, arguing that an authentic democracy is the result of the “convinced acceptance” of values such as the dignity of the person, the respect of human rights and looking for the common good.

Seeing that in there’s no consensus on these values in the country at the present time, the prelates explained, “the meaning of democracy is lost, and its stability compromised.”

They also wrote that Nicaraguans should individually decide on whether they take part in the elections or not, “according to the inviolable dignity of their conscience, with freedom.”

Crux has been told by sources in the country this was the generalized tone taken by the country’s bishops during their Sunday Masses, but the lack of independent media and the government’s control of social media makes accessing their full homilies virtually impossible.

Meta – the new holding company for Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram – announced this week that it had shut down thousands of Facebook and Instagram accounts that constituted a “trolls farm” in favor of the government run from State-owned offices, and YouTube closed 82 accounts accused of spreading fake information in favor of President Daniel Ortega.

Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Matagalpa, the country’s second largest city, posted on Facebook Nov. 1 questioning the existence of the State of Law in the country, wondering if “we live in a State of Law where human rights are respected, where the political rights, the economic rights and social rights are respected?”

“Each Nicaraguan must respond these questions for themselves and according to their answer, decide, in the inviolable conscience that each one of us have, without being afraid of anyone or anything, without being afraid of threats, coercions, blackmailing that might come from a person or a sector, because, beloved brothers and sisters, we are free, we were freed by Christ,” he said.

Speaking from Miami, Bishop Silvio Baez, the exiled auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Managua, told Spanish news agency EFE that if the Nicaraguan people manage to unite for the common good in such a “difficult and decisive” moment, the “country will have a future”, and tacitly urged Ortega to “rectify” the situation.

The prelate acknowledged that in Nicaragua, “cruelty has reached inhuman levels.”

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua is still recovering after a serious case of COVID-19. Despite his delicate health, the government saw fit to install a police booth across from his house.

Monsignor Carlos Aviles, vicar general of the archdiocese, tried to play down the significance of the police booth, arguing that the Church hopes it’s not for controlling the moves of the prelate but to protect him, because the police have the “duty of protecting personalities and embassies.”

He also argued that he doesn’t believe this action is related to the statements from the Catholic hierarchy that said conditions are not in place for there to be democratic elections in the country this Sunday.

The papal embassy in the country has confirmed that a small group of faithful attends Mass in Brenes’s house regularly.

Some 4.7 million people are set to vote in the Nov. 7 elections, though many citizens have decided not to take part in the polls, citing the fact that 39 opposition leaders have been jailed ahead of the vote, including seven candidates to replace Ortega.

Any of the imprisoned presidential hopeful (Cristiana Chamorro, Felix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Medardo Mairena, Miguel Mora, Arturo Cruz and Noel Vidaurre) would have beaten Ortega according to the latest CID-Gallup poll, the most credible polling agency in Nicaragua. Their latest study showed that 65 percent of the people consulted would vote for any of these political prisoners, while only 19 percent for Ortega and Murillo. It also showed that only 5 percent of those within voting age declared themselves militant of that party.

Ortega is seeking his second re-election, but it would make this his fifth term as president, having served two terms as head of the Sandinista regime from 1979-1990.

The confrontation between the official party (SNL) and the Catholic Church began after the victory of the Sandinista Revolution in 1979, but the Church played a key role in the peace accords that, in the late 1980s put an end to the country’s civil war. Since April 2018, however, the relationship took a turn for the worse, after a civil revolt against the government left some 280 deaths and put thousands of political prisoners in jail. The bishops were called in by the government to mediate, but were later accused by the Ortega regime of being coup organizers, terrorists, and offspring of the devil.

Nicaraguans initially were protesting reforms to the country’s social security system. Other grievances, including a proposed Chinese-sponsored canal and the Ortega regime’s political repression, soon played a part in the street demonstrations. In response, Ortega declared protests illegal and began a harsh crackdown. This included revoking the licenses of human rights organizations, closing the offices of news media, and the persecution of movement leaders.

Since these protests, there has been further repression: The National Assembly passed legislation that curtails political freedoms, such as the October 2020 Foreign Agents Law, which requires organizations that receive money from non-domestic sources to register as foreign agents. Catholic NGOs are among the groups accused of being foreign agents campaigning against the government.

Since protests continue being prohibited and Nicaraguans have been given ample reasons to be cautious when defying this ruling, hundreds of thousands have joined the campaign “quédate en casa,” meaning “stay home” on Sunday, in the hopes that a low turnout would offer a clear message to the regime.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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