ROMAN CATHOLIC bishops in Nicaragua abandoned peace talks last week amid ongoing violence in the Central American country.
The collapse of the mediation between the President, Daniel Ortega, and opposition groups came the day after a protest in Managua against the President’s 11 years in power. At least 11 people were killed, and 79 were wounded.
In a letter released on Thursday of last week, the group of RC bishops said: “We strongly condemn all these violent acts . . . and we absolutely reject this organised and systematic aggression against the people, which has left dozens injured and some people dead.”
They also wrote to say that they could not continue peace talks “while the people of Nicaragua are still denied the right to demonstrate freely and continue to be repressed and killed”.
It is estimated that at least 100 anti-government protesters have been killed by security forces since protests began in April. Amnesty International has described the government’s policy of containing protests as “shoot to kill”.
The “national dialogue” mediated by the Roman Catholic bishops, which sought to stop violent and fatal clashes, began last month (News, 25 May).
On Sunday, Pope Francis condemned the violence: “I join my brother bishops of Nicaragua in expressing sorrow for the serious violence, with dead and wounded, carried out by armed groups to repress social protests,” the Crux news site reported.
The Pope continued: “I pray for the victims and their families. The Church is always for dialogue, but this requires an active commitment to respect freedom, and, above all, life. I pray that all violence should cease, and the conditions for the resumption of dialogue [come] as soon as possible.”
In May, the Jesuit-run University of Central America came under mortar fire, allegedly because the university had participated in the national dialogue, and students have supported the protests.
Mayela Hurtado, who works for Christian Aid in the country, said on Wednesday that “society has collapsed, more or less”. There are “huge marches every day”, and the “death toll is really high and is going up every day”.
She went on: “The students [who started the protests] are heroes, but the Catholic Church has been very important in all of this, in offering to mediate the dialogue. RC priests wanted talks to move forward, but they were blocked. . . There was no point talking to the government if they could not keep their word.
“Society needs to find peaceful ways to have the dialogue. . . All that we want is justice. The perfect scenario is for the dialogue to continue and for the elections to move forward.”
There is a good side of the turmoil in Nicaragua, however, Ms Hurtado said. “A lot of solidarity has come out of this: it is like a revolution. It has taken all of us by surprise. It is amazing to see the marches and demonstrations.”
The head of the From Violence to Peace project at Christian Aid, Karol Balfe, said last week: “Christian Aid strongly condemns any and all violations of human rights in Nicaragua. The preliminary report by the Inter-American Commission [on Human Rights] set up to investigate the situation, is very worrying.
“Urgent measures must be taken to ensure that human rights in Nicaragua are protected.”
The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, asked the Nicaraguan government last Friday to “favourably consider” the request of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit the country to help with the dialogue.