Nicaragua: Catholic Bishops – “The Government Has Just One Month To Satisfy Society’s Demands”

Demonstrations around the country took place in response to the Ortega administration’s announcement of social security reforms. Protests have claimed 42 lives and left more than 400 injured.

The Catholic bishops’ conference of Nicaragua has accepted an invitation to mediate talks aimed at calming the Central American country, which has been roiled by protests over proposed changes to the national social security system and discontent with an increasingly authoritarian government.

“The (bishops) after praying, listening and seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit, accept being (part of), in the character of ‘mediator and witness’ the dialogue convened by the President Daniel Ortega Saavedra … in the face of the very serious situations the Nicaraguan nation has experienced and intensified in the past week”, the bishops said in an statement on the 24th April.

“To facilitate the climate of dialogue, we consider it essential and imperative that both the government, along with each member of civil society, avoid all acts of violence, disrespect for public and private property and that a climate of serenity and absolute respect for human life … prevails.”

Managua’s Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes said that the Catholic Church, currently mediating in the crisis, would give Ortega a month to reach agreements that satisfy society’s demands. “The government has just one month to come through. If it doesn’t, the people will be told that it couldn’t”, Brenes said.

Protests in Nicaragua have claimed 42 lives and left more than 400 injured — the product of a heavy-handed crackdown, human rights observers allege.

Meanwhile, Nicaraguans president has cancelled the proposed social security reforms, but protesters have stayed in the streets and demanded his ouster, accusing the president and his family of corruption, cracking down on the media and stifling dissent.
The Jesuit-run University of Central America, commonly called UCA, was the scene of a protest repressed by police 18th April. The university, Jesuits in Nicaragua and Latin America and the Association of Jesuit Universities and Colleges all called on the authorities to respect the rights of citizens and students to protest.

“The damage caused to our facilities as a part of this aggression was significant, an attack carried out with impunity”, read a letter signed by six Jesuit priests, including the provincial for Central America, Fr. Rolando Alvarado. “We are worried our academic and civic work will be distorted with false accusation intending to display the UCA as a promoter of violence and social instability.”

The protests began as a reaction to Ortega’s decision to reform the social security system. The government measures, that have now been backtracked, would have raised the contribution of workers and employers while reducing future pensions.

Police in riot gear were deployed to break up student protesters. Groups of the Juventud Sandinista, aligned with Ortega, also clashed with the students. Students took to throwing stones and building barricades while they tried to repel attempts to disperse them with rubber bullets, tear gas, and, according to doctors on the ground, real bullets.

Ortega, a former guerrilla fighter, began his third five-year term in office last year, with his wife, Rosario Murillo, as vice-president. He was first elected president in 1985, then ran unsuccessfully in 1990, 1996 and 2001. He was elected again in 2006, 2011 and 2016.