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Friday, June 21, 2024

Nicaragua Cracks Down on Catholic Groups

Nicaraguan authorities on Tuesday shuttered the local chapter of the Franciscan religious order as well as 16 NGOs, many with ties to Catholic and evangelical churches with which the government has been at loggerheads.

The official reasons given for the order issued by the interior ministry included a failure to declare their sources of financing and donations.

The government also confiscated the organizations’ movable and immovable assets. Nicaragua is led by President Daniel Ortega, a former guerrilla leader who toppled a US-backed right-wing regime in the 1970s and ruled for more than a decade.

But since returning to power in 2007, Ortega has exiled and jailed dissidents and rivals, quashed presidential term limits and seized control of all branches of the state. 

The Central American nation has shuttered more than 3,000 associations, NGOs and unions in the wake of 2018 protests against Ortega’s government.

Hundreds of critics have been detained, including several would-be challengers to Ortega ahead of presidential elections in 2021.  Earlier this year, 222 jailed government opponents were suddenly expelled to the United States and stripped of their citizenship.

Last week, the Vatican said it would take 12 Catholic priests who were critical of Managua, released from detention in a deal with the government. The Franciscans are a Catholic order.

Relations between the Vatican and the government deteriorated amid the protests, during which more than 300 people were killed in clashes between the opposition and government supporters, according to the United Nations.

While Ortega’s government cast the protests as an attempted coup promoted by Washington, the violent crackdown that ensued prompted widespread international condemnation.

The United States and the European Union maintain sanctions against the government in Managua. In March, Ortega threatened to suspend ties with the Vatican after Pope Francis referred to his government as a dictatorship.

And in August, a university run by another Catholic order, the Jesuits, said it was suspending classes after the leftist government announced the seizure of all its assets and accused the school of terrorism.

About half of Nicaragua’s 6.3 million people are Catholic.

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