Nicaragua's bishops strive to find way out of national crisis

Nicaragua’s bishops strive to find way out of national crisis

Nicaragua’s bishops strive to find way out of national crisis

A demonstrator holds a crucifix during a protest against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government in Managua, Nicaragua, May 15. (Credit: CNS photo/Oswaldo Rivas, Reuters.)

Nicaraguan bishop on national crisis: "A new society cannot be built on [the basis] of insecurity and impunity.”

ROME – After 170 people died in the past two months due to civil unrest and governmental oppression in Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega agreed to stop the violence and to recommence a national dialogue which has the Catholic Church as a mediator.

Yet a day after the initial agreement to resume dialogue, announced on Friday, a family of seven, including three children, was burned alive in their home in Nicaragua, as were two other people who were lit on fire with gas thrown on them as they were walking down the street.

According to a statement sent to CNN by the local police on Saturday, the family from Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, was killed in an attack “perpetrated by terrorists and organized crime,” with “home-made” weapons including Molotov cocktails.

After the fact, the Archdiocese of Managua released a statement expressing “consternation” over the terrible crimes that took place on the night of Friday/Saturday.

“We energetically condemn and repudiate these deplorable events,” reads the statement signed by Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes and the auxiliary bishop of Managua, Bishop José Báez.

Despite the violent crimes, the Commission of Mediation and Witness of the national dialogue table continued its work, and on Saturday released a second statement, following an appeal released on Friday.

Coming from both the government and civil society, the original statement called for end to the violence that has befallen the country in the past two months.

RELATED: Some Nicaraguan bishops openly back anti-Ortega protests

The dialogue table met on Friday and Saturday, and the statements released after each meeting were shared by Báez on Twitter. The first attempt to search for a peaceful way out of the crisis was suspended on May 23, after a lack of agreement.

There were six Catholic bishops in the meetings, including Brenes; Báez, who’s received death threats because of his outspokenness against the government; and Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertan, recently appointed papal representative in the country.

Báez has been active both publicly and behind the scenes, going to social media to get his message out, undeterred by threats.

For instance, on Saturday he shared a section of his address to the commission on the same day: “We must clarify the truth, establish who’s responsible for what’s happened and do justice. Justice has been broken here and it must be restored. A new society cannot be built on [the basis] of insecurity and impunity.”

Also at the dialogue table were representatives of the government, of private companies, students, universities, civil society, workers, the rural area, Evangelical churches, indigenous communities and those who are African descendants.

According to the statement released on Friday by the Commission that is meeting in the Seminary Our Lady of Fatima in Managua, those present reached an agreement on the first element of the agenda: Human Rights.

Among other things, all sides make a commitment to a stoppage of “all violence and threats, regardless of where it’s coming from.”

They also urge the presence of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights and that of the European Union, in addition to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States. The expectation is that the UN Commission for Human Rights will look into the 170 deaths that have taken place since the clashes between protesters, governmental forces and pro-government militias began.

The agreement stated that the implementation of these points would lead to a dialogue on Saturday morning to continue the “process of democratization of the country.”

The government has agreed to allow for the International Commission for Human Rights to enter the country to investigate the violent repression of the rallies against the government that began mid-April as a reaction to the social security system.

Though still against the government, the massive protests have continued, with demonstrators calling for freedom of expression, an end to violent repression, and for Ortega to step down from office. On Thursday, thousands of shopkeepers and businessmen in Nicaragua heeded calls for a national strike.

To this point, no announcement has been made regarding the Church’s appeal for the government to anticipate the elections. As it is, Ortega will remain as president until the year 2021, after winning elections last year. He’s been in power since 2007.

The statement released on Saturday said that the Dialogue Table has agreed to setting up a commission of “Verification and Security,” that will include members of the dialogue table and will continue to see the Catholic Church serving as witness to the entire process.

It also insisted on an end to violence: “The end of every form of violence and threat, no matter where it comes from, in the national territory.”

Of the 21 members of the Commission for the Verification and Safety, including the 6 substitutes named by the government and excluding the six bishops, only four are women.

“The end of all violence is a basic necessity. Nicaraguans don’t need any more violence,” Foreign Minister Denis Moncada, who is the head government negotiator, told reporters, according to Reuters news agency, on the ground.

Those on the other side of the street, the “Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy,” the umbrella group for the different factions of civil society, were also hopeful after the agreement.

“The agreement makes us think in positive terms and that the violence will not get worse,” said Juan Sebastián Chamorro.

Sommertag was recently appointed as nuncio to Nicaragua, but he’s already joined the local Church in its role as the supervisory body of the dialogue, and in remarks he gave to journalists after a Mass he celebrated this Sunday in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Managua, he showed he’s been briefed on what’s happening.

“We must all pray to achieve peace in Nicaragua, and this is the Holy Father’s desire,” he said in the homily during the first Mass he celebrated in the cathedral. “The people of Nicaragua must own up to their responsibilities, no matter how small or big, to open a new path of reconciliation and peace, that is the only path for Nicaragua.”

But he’s not talking about an easy peace either: “The path to peace goes through justice, this is very clear. Justice first, but not vengeance, justice.”

“I know that the people of Nicaragua are very attentive to the words of the Holy Father, who today asks you to reject every violence that only contributes to multiplying division and suffering, particularly among the poor and vulnerable.”

Asked about a possible visit by Pope Francis to the country, the papal representative to the country said that it’s necessary to wait, but that the pontiff “always has Nicaragua very close to his heart.”

Dialogue talks were supposed to resume on Tuesday, but the bishops’ conference announced the meeting was suspended until the government meets an agreed-upon requirement to formally invite the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Union to observe the situation. The statement released Monday also says that as soon as the bishops receive evidence that the invitations have been issued, they will convoke all the parties engaged in the dialogue sessions.

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