Nicaragua’s Catholic bishops entered Masaya on Thursday, in a dramatic show of solidarity with residents and opponents to President Daniel Ortega, threatened with a “massacre” at the hands of forces loyal to the government.
Thousands of people poured onto Masaya’s narrow streets to welcome several prominent bishops, including Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and bishops Silvio Baez, who led them through the city in procession behind a statue of Jesus.
Brenes and the papal nuncio in Nicaragua, Monsignor Waldemar Stanislaw, managed to get the chief of the Masaya Police, General Ramón Avellán, on Thursday to commit to stopping the repression that has left at least nine dead and dozens injured this past week alone.
The agreement was reached in a meeting held at the city police station, after the massive procession in which the bishops pledged to advocate the cessation of violence.
Masaya, just south of the capital Managua has become a flashpoint after two months of anti-government protests that have claimed the lives of almost 200 people.
The bishops who have taken on the task of mediating the clash between the government and protesters, hosting the failed national dialogue, said they had decided to go to Masaya “to avoid another massacre, give comfort and pray with our people”. The latest round of talks collapsed on Monday. The Episcopal Conference has called on Ortega to allow early elections in March 2019, two years ahead of schedule, in order to ease tensions.
“We do not want more killings in Nicaragua,” said Baez, a harsh critic of the government.
“I want to remind you of one of God’s commandments: Thou shalt not kill. To the snipers, to Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo: Not one more death,” he said.
Masaya, which this week declared itself in rebellion to Ortega’s rule — had come under “disproportionate” attack from hundreds of police and paramilitaries, using AK47s and Dragunov sniper rifles against civilian residents, the head of the Nicaraguan Association of Human Rights, Alvaro Leiva, said.
The city declared itself a “dictator-free territory”.
“It’s deplorable to see how our brothers are dying. If we had weapons, it would be weapons against weapons, but this is very unequal,” one local resident told AFP.
Local residents have been resisting with homemade mortars. Last Saturday pro-government forces have been alleged to have set a house on fire that killed six people.