MASAYA, Nicaragua — Nicaraguan police have ended a daylong seige against a church after Catholic leaders intervened to release an estimated 30 opposition supporters taking refuge inside.
The negotiations were aided by Father Edwing Roman, a local priest in Masaya, and Álvaro Leiva, a human-rights lawyer. The auxiliary bishop of Managua, Msgr. Silvio Jose Báez, applauded the two men’s efforts.
“Free detainees in Masaya thanks to the good offices of Fr. Edwin Roman and Dr. Alvaro Leiva. Now in the parish house of the San Miguel parish, the injured continue to be attended to,” he tweeted June 2.
Some 30 people had been seeking safe haven from riot police and pro-government forces at San Miguel Church in Masaya. Before the refugees were released, doctors were given permission to treat the wounded opposition supporters. Two people have been reported dead.
Violence has been building in the country since April, when Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega moved to make cuts to social security and pensions. He has since revoked the legislation, but protests have only intensified after more than 40 protesters were killed by security forces.
Protestors are calling for the resignation of President Ortega, who in 2016 was re-elected to his third consecutive term in power, after the constitution was changed allowing him to run again.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited four Nicaraguan cities May 17-21 to document human-right violations. The commission found that at least 76 people have died and 868 have been injured since the riots began.
College students are a major contributor to the opposition’s forces. In the capital city of Managua, the University of Central America has become a center for student-led anti-government activism.
On May 27, the university was attacked by three masked militants who fired mortars at two guards stationed at the entrance.
No one was injured during attack, but the rector of the university, Father José Alberto Idiáquez, denounced “this cowardly night attack by para-police forces that, protected by the impunity guaranteed by the current (government), have been using the hours of the night to intimidate and kill innocent citizens in the neighborhoods of the capital and other cities.”
Last month, Nicaragua’s Catholic bishops offered to broker peace talks between the opposition and government. The bishops encouraged Ortega to establish “a mechanism of international investigation of the acts of violence which occurred, with guarantees of autonomy and independence to ensure the right to the truth and duly identify those responsible.”
The talks have since been suspended, and Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua said the government refused to discuss the agenda at hand, including reforms to presidential elections.
On Sunday, Pope Francis decried the government violence toward the Nicaraguan people and encouraged peaceful dialogue.
“I join my brother bishops of Nicaragua in expressing sorrow for the serious violence, with dead and wounded carried out by armed groups to repress social protests,” he said after the June 3 Angelus.
“I pray for the victims and their families. The Church is always for dialogue, but this requires an active commitment to respect freedom and, above all, life. I pray that all violence should cease and the conditions for the resumption of dialogue [come] as soon as possible.”