Red lines

Nicaragua’s evangelical President Ortega wrestles with the Catholic Church.

Red lines between politics and religion are being crossed in Nicaragua leaving the Catholic Church struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with the government. In the latest sign of deteriorating relations, president Daniel Ortega’s government decided to close seven radio stations managed by the Matagalpa Diocese. The Inter American Commission of Human Rights labelled the decision as arbitrary and politically motivated.  

A former Nicaraguan Catholic priest and author despaired, “President Ortega shows no regard for limits and has already destroyed the red lines that separate religion from politics. Ortega is dismantling schools, radio stations and everything that has to do with the Catholic world that resists his authoritarian regime. Despite this, Catholic internet applications persist … it will be difficult for him to break those down.” 

“President Ortega shows no regard for limits and has already destroyed the red lines that separate religion from politics.”

Former Priest and author, Nicaragua

President Ortega has maintained a tense relationship with the Catholic Church since 2014 when the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference (“CEN”) published an open letter calling for Ortega to address a number of social, political and economic issues in the country through a process of national dialogue. The tensions between CEN and Ortega’s administration worsened following the eruption of government instigated violence in the country to repress the 2018 protests. 

Behind these tensions is the unraveling of a ‘religious crusade’ between Catholics and Protestants in Nicaragua with transnational support networks on both sides, as the priest explained, “It is the age-old Protestant vs Catholic debate and both sides have foreign support: the Vatican on one side and Protestant evangelical groups in the US, Brazil and Mexico on the other. Ortega has pronounced his evangelical faith but many Protestant groups have expressed concern over Ortega’s tyrannical approach.” 

It is the age-old Protestant vs Catholic debate and both sides have foreign support: the Vatican on one side and Protestant evangelical groups in the US, Brazil and Mexico on the other.”

Former Priest and author, Nicaragua

The Latin American Episcopal Conference (“CELAM”) reacted to the events by denouncing an increase in the harassment of priests, bishops and other members of religious communities in Nicaragua. An investigation conducted by lawyer Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro reported 190 instances of aggression against the Catholic Church and its members since 2018. 

Church members in Nicaragua are considered to be very close to local communities, particularly in the country’s rural areas. Unhappy with the Church’s role after the protests, the Ortega administration has accused CEN of engaging in politics taking sides with opposition leaders. 

A lawyer, familiar with Montenegro’s investigations, concluded, “What Ortega seeks deep down is to weaken the Catholic Church to avoid a reissue just like the one he had with the first Cardinal of Nicaragua, Don Miguel Obando y Bravo before Sandinismo came to power after overthrowing Somoza. He does not want to have a mediator to hold him accountable and so he attacks the Catholic Church and its various instruments.” 

In contrast, local authorities have accused the Catholic Church of organising violent groups and engaging in acts of hatred against public officials. On 4 August, police sieged the offices and residency of Monsignor Rolando José Álvarez, who remains under house arrest investigated for supposedly organising violent groups. 

The divisions between Catholics and Protestants are not limited to Nicaragua; Honduras is in a similar situation, according to the former priest, “Protestants now outnumber Catholics in Honduras, this was unthinkable just a few decades ago. It is no secret that the CIA started evangelical support structures in the 1970s and 1980s to perpetrate counter-guerrilla social networks in Central America and Honduras, de facto a quasi-protectorate of Washington, was the basis for disseminating this instrument to other countries.” 

Whether you believe the conspiracy theories or not, the unavoidable truth is that the decline of the Catholic Church in Latin America continues. 

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