April 19, 2018 marked an important date in the modern history of Nicaragua. Leading up to that day, the Nicaraguan people have risen up against the current government in a series of protests which have resulted approximately 300 deaths and 2,000 persons injured.
Role in the dialogue National
Since April 19 the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference (CEN), has taken the lead at the national level for their role in the defense of human rights, as a mediator in the national dialogue and for the attacks they have suffered from the government. The names of Leopoldo Bremes, Silvio Baez, Jorge Solozarno, Bosco Vivas Robelo, Rolando Alvarez, Juan Abelardo Mata, Edwin Romàn, Silvio Rueda, Agusto Gutierrez, Miguel Mantica, Vicente Martínez and Cesar Ramirez are synonymous with heroism, courage and patriotism in Nicaragua for the actions that have played for the defense of human rights in a peaceful and non-violent way. The Catholic Church has been a stronghold in favor of student protests and has advocated for dialogue and peace.
On April 22 the president Daniel Ortega asked the bishops of Nicaragua to be “mediators and witnesses” in the dialogue organized by civil society. The bishops accepted the roles as mediators and witnesses in the national dialogue with the aim of achieving democratization of the country as long as the paramilitary groups would be suppressed and there would be a cessation of the repression against the students. But despite the efforts that were made, there was no willingness on the part of the government to engage in dialogue and seek processes that lead to democracy. Paradoxically, the government of Nicaragua after having been met with the intervention and mediation of the Catholic Church and the National Dialogue, it was the Catholic Church that became “Terrible Enemy” of the government.
Defense of the people
Despite the fact that civil society and other members of the National Dialogue commission requested the disarmament of pro-government paramilitary groups, the dictatorial government of Ortega-Murillo has intensified violence and repression towards people who protest civically in different marches throughout the whole country. Armed attacks have been carried out against students in the universities, protesters have been attacked and tortured, doctors have been dismissed for having attended people injured in the marches organized by the civil society and those who do not support the government are subject to persecution and intimidation.
The Catholic Church, through the work of bishops and parish priests of the country, has not only denounced at the national level the international military attacks that have afflicted the Nicaraguan population by the government, but also they have attended the places of conflict, have defended and rescued many students, and have interceded and advocated for the release of many people who have been unjustly imprisoned during the protests. They have given refuge in the different parishes to people persecuted and threatened in the protests.
In April, Archbishop Silvio Baez opened the doors of the cathedral of Managua to hundreds of college students. In May Archbishop Rolando Alvarez carried out a procession in the city of Sebaco during an armed attack in the mood to achieve the cessation of attacks. In the month of July the parish priests Raúl Zamora and Erick Alvarado stayed together with more than a hundred university students during one night of terror; for 12 continuous hours they were victims of armed attacks in the Divine Mercy Church at Managua in which two people died from bullet impact inside the temple. In the San Sebastián church in Diriamba, Cardinal Leopoldo Bremes, Archbishop Silvio Báez, the Apostolic Nuncio of Nicaragua Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, and some independent journalists and civilians were attacked by government paramilitaries.
Heroes in cassocks, not capes
Thousands have used social media platforms to denounce the armed attacks that have taken place throughout the country and at the same time requested the presence and help of the bishops. Users have written on the Twitter and Facebook accounts of Archbishop Silvio Báez requesting his presence, defense and support.
The different representatives of the Catholic Church beyond their message of peace and reconciliation in the Catholic mass’ homilies, have responded by actively defending the lives of the defenseless, assaulted and outraged in these three months no matter that these have meant the same aggression and threats of death to them. President Daniel Ortega, in his speech on July 19, called the bishops’ “coup unpatriotic and terrorists” and said they were responsible for the violence that has been generated in the country.
The people of Nicaragua, regardless of religious ideology, have unanimously recognized, valued and defended the work of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua through the bishops and parish priests who have risked their lives and have given themselves completely to the defense of the rights of human beings in a peaceful and non-violent way. It is exemplary that despite the intimidation, slander, and physical and psychological abuse that the bishops have suffered, they have confronted the situation and have responded by advocating for peace in the country through dialogue, justice and freedom for all Nicaraguans.
“Bishops, friends, the people are with you”
In Nicaragua the superheroes have no cloak or swords, the heroes in Nicaragua wear cassocks and the people have shown their support and love for their heroes. They expressed that support on July 28, in a march to support the Episcopal Conference, under the slogan “Obispos, amigos, el pueblo está contigo” (“Bishops, friends, the people are with you”). Today, Nicaraguans feel identified, represented and defended by the Episcopal Conference. Thousands of Nicaraguans shouted at the march “what is the only channel, the Episcopal Conference”. Like the movie superheroes, the bishops and parish priests in Nicaragua are admired and loved for their rescue work and defense of people who are unprotected.