Nicaragua: What Kind of Dialogue is Pope Francis Proposing?

Pope Francis. Photo: EFE

An “open and sincere dialogue” as Pope Francis suggested on August 21, is only possible in a country without political prisoners and without the current repressive police state.

By Carlos F. Chamorro (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – After a long silence regarding the human rights crisis in Nicaragua, at last Pope Francis spoke out on Sunday, August 21. His message was of solidarity, proposing the establishment of a dialogue to find a peaceful way out of the national crisis.

The Pope’s long-awaited message was necessary to salve the pain of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, currently suffering the persecution of a cruel dictatorship. However, the vagueness and ambiguity of his words aren’t enough to restore hope to a country yearning to recover its freedom and democracy.

The Pope expressed his “pain and worry” over what he called the “situation created in Nicaragua, involving people and institutions.” He didn’t mention by name Monsignor Rolando Alvarez and the other seven clergy who’ve been jailed, nor did he explain what had caused the situation that’s bringing him “pain and worry.”

Nicaragua is living in a crisis that the international human rights organizations under the OAS and the UN have classed as a “de facto Police state.” The suspension of citizen rights to assemble, mobilize and be informed was imposed four years ago by a regime that’s been accused of crimes against humanity, with over 300 assassinations left uninvestigated and unpunished, and some190 political prisoners currently in the country’s jails. This situation has provoked the exile of over 200,000 people.

Pope Francis also advocated for, “An open and sincere dialogue, through which the foundations for respectful and peaceful coexistence could yet be found.” Although he also failed to mention who could be the eventual participants in this dialogue, it’s timely to recall that the Pope’s former representative in Nicaragua, Apostolic Nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, was expelled from the country by the regime in March of this year. Sommertag had participated as an international witness in the last national dialogue, held in 2019 between the government and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy.

As a result, the Pope is undoubtedly well informed about the causes of that dialogue’s abject failure, so that his new proposal might have greater possibilities of success and not become just another national frustration.

On March 29, 2019, that second national dialogue concluded with two agreements, signed by the government representatives, the civic opposition and the international witnesses. The first agreement – for the government to free all the political prisoners – was only partially complied with. Although they did release over 300 such prisoners, they kept 120 in jail. Then, two years later, as the November 7, 2021 elections were approaching, the regime once again filled the jail cells with round-ups of political and civic leaders, among them seven presidential hopefuls, subjected to a regimen of isolation and torture in the El Chipote jail.

The second agreement Nicaraguan foreign minister Denis Moncada signed following that 2019 national dialogue was the “Agreement to strengthen citizen rights and guarantees.”  In it, the government committed itself to suspending the police state and reestablishing all Constitutional rights. Nonetheless, Daniel Ortega not only failed to fulfill that accord, but instead reinforced the police state with new repressive laws passed in 2020. Not only that, the regime jailed four of the Civic Alliance members who signed the accord: Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Jose Pallais, Max Jerez and Jose Adan Aguerri, who today remain as political prisoners, with unjust court sentences of up to 13 years in jail.

Given this, in order to be able to realize an “open” dialogue, as the Pope proposes, the government of Daniel Ortega must first unconditionally free all the political prisoners, including Monsignor Rolando Alvarez and the seven religious figures who are currently jailed in El Chipote.

Further, for that dialogue to be “sincere”, as the Pope also proposes, the government must comply with the agreements it signed in March 2019 and order the suspension of the police state, so that the Nicaraguan people can recover the freedoms of movement and assembly, freedom of the press and expression, freedom of association, religious freedom, and university autonomy.

Only without political prisoners and without a police state will the “open and sincere” dialogue Pope Francis advocates be possible. It should also include international guarantors capable of supervising the fulfillment of the accords. Otherwise, if the Vatican’s strategy is to try and appease the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship by offering them the banishment or indefinite house arrest of Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, it will be burying Nicaragua’s last hope.

Pope Francis’ exhortation for a dialogue that will allow the parties to “set the foundations for peaceful coexistence” will only return hope to Nicaragua if it really does mark a road map: 1) Liberation of all the political prisoners; 2) Suspension of the police state; and 3) Selection of international guarantors to supervise the accords. All culminating in negotiations for an electoral reform that would allow Nicaragua to call for new, free elections.

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