In a country where politicians quote the Bible and the clergy preach politics, Nicaragua’s Conference of Bishops is criticizing the Nov. 6 general elections for being undemocratic and unrepresentative of the people’s will.
The Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops released a statement Wednesday afternoon criticizing the “lack of transparency and honesty with which the elections were administered,” and blasted the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) for “not being capable of performing their function with responsibility and honesty.”
The Episcopal Conference said the dubious pre-electoral environment, which was filled with “prejudice” and doubts about the “legality and honesty” of the process, came to a head with the numerous complaints filed during the day of the vote.
And the CSE’s official results, announced Nov. 15, do “not guarantee the will of the people,” the bishop’s conference said in a joint statement.
The Catholic bishops urged Nicaragua’s government to “return to a rule of law,” where the president is “subject to the law.”
“Otherwise, there can be no democratic advancement in Nicaragua,” said Managua’s auxiliary bishop Silvio Báez, the secretary of the Conference of Bishops and an outspoken critic of the government of President Daniel Ortega.
The bishops’ criticism of the election process underscores the division in Nicaragua’s Catholic Church, where certain priests have sided with Ortega while others are among his leading critics. Yesterday’s stance by the Episcopal Conference also demonstrates how much daylight there is between Nicaragua’s official Catholic hierarchy and retired Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, who has become Ortega’s inseparable tug on the Catholic cloth.
Obando y Bravo, who was a leading critic of Ortega during the 1980s, is now the president’s main liturgical ally, appearing at his side during public rallies and invoking the Holy Spirit when needed.
Interestingly enough, Obando y Bravo is also the “godfather” of Roberto Rivas, president of the CSE, who was raised under the aging bishop’s personal protection. For many Catholic faithful, the cozy relationship between Obando y Bravo, Ortega and Rivas has only deepened the confusion between church, party and state.
But the Conference of Bishops says God sees things clearly.
“Any dishonest action that violates the sovereignty of the people is not only ethically wrong, but reprehensible in the eyes of God,” Báez said.
Báez’s criticism of the Sandinista government has escalated with the administration’s appropriation of religious rhetoric and symbolism.
The presidential couple’s histrionic conversion to Christian fundamentalism over the past five years has caught even the clergy off-guard.
“Together we’re more committed as Christians; together we are the Kingdom of God in us and with us…We are a people who walk hand in hand with God,” says Ortega’s wife and communications director, Rosario Murillo, in a one-minute campaign spot that aired recently. Another campaign ad referred to the “multiplication of breads” and the “Ark of the Covenant,” hinting that the Sandinista government is on a mission from God.
Even the annual July 19 celebration to commemorate the triumph of the Popular Sandinista Revolution in 1979 has become more religious than revolutionary.
“The July 19 act is like a great mass… a revolutionary mass where we will sing and fill ourselves with the God of the Poor and love for our fellow man,” Murillo said on the eve of this year’s anniversary celebration.
The first lady added, “the Sandinista Front is like a religion” and she insists the government is “Christian, Socialist and in-Solidarity.”
Murillo’s religious zeal has become too much even for priests.
“Nicaragua is a secular state. I don’t see why it has to be Christian— and I am telling you that as a Catholic bishop!” Báez told me last July.
While church leaders urge Nicaragua’s politicians to “not repeat the errors of the past that drive the country to greater division and confrontation,” the focus of their message is directed at the Catholic faithful.
“Don’t be pessimistic,” Báez told the nation on Wednesday afternoon. “This moment is a challenge to our faith.”