Vatican closes embassy in Nicaragua after Ortega crackdown

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican said on Saturday it had closed its embassy in Nicaragua after the country’s government proposed to suspend diplomatic relations, the latest result of years of crackdown on the Catholic Church by the administration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega .

The Vatican representative in Managua, Monsignor Marcel Diouf, also left the country for Costa Rica on Friday, a Vatican official said on condition of anonymity.

The Vatican’s action comes a week after the Nicaraguan government proposed to end ties with the Holy See and a year after Nicaragua forced the then-papal ambassador to leave. It is not clear what the proposed suspension would mean more in diplomatic terms.

Relations between the church and the Ortega government have deteriorated since 2018, when Nicaraguan authorities violently repressed anti-government protests.

Some Catholic leaders offered protesters shelters in their churches, and the church later attempted to act as an intermediary between the government and political opposition.

Ortega branded Catholic figures whom he saw as sympathetic to the opposition as “terrorists” who supported efforts to overthrow him. Dozens of religious figures were arrested or fled the country.

Two congregations of nuns, including the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa, were expelled from Nicaragua last year.

Prominent Catholic bishop Rolando Álvarez was sentenced to 26 years in prison last month after refusing to board a plane carrying 222 dissidents and priests into exile in the United States. He was also stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship.

Pope Francis had largely remained silent on the subject, apparently he did not want to ignite the tensions. But in a March 10th In an interview with the Argentine media company Infobae after Alvarez’s conviction, he described the Ortega government as a “crude dictatorship”, comparable to that of Hitler, led by an “unbalanced” president.

According to Vatican News, the care of the Vatican embassy or nunciature has been entrusted to the Italian government, in accordance with diplomatic conventions. According to the report, diplomats from the European Union, Germany, France and Italy presented Diouf, the chargé d’affaires, with a farewell salute before he closed the diplomatic post and left.

During the farewell ceremony, German Ambassador to Nicaragua Christoph Bundscherer expressed his regret at the closure of the embassy and asked Diouf to deliver a message to Pope Francis, according to a statement on the German embassy’s Facebook page.

“Together with the Catholic Church, the representatives of the European Union in Nicaragua will always defend the Christian values ​​of freedom, tolerance and human dignity,” Bundscherer said in a statement.

The Nicaraguan government, which has banned all opposition demonstrations in the country since September 2018, also restricted Catholic activities in churches, including banning the traditional street processions that thousands of Nicaraguans used to celebrate before Holy Week and Easter.

The restrictions forced church authorities to hold the Stations of the Cross procession on the grounds of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Managua, as they did on Friday.


Selser reported from Mexico City.

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