MANAGUA, April 3 (Reuters) – As Nicaraguan Catholics prepare for Easter Sunday, a government crackdown on critics means Holy Week celebrations will mostly take place behind closed doors as ties between the influential church and President Daniel Ortega remain deeply strained.
The government banned Holy Week street processions this year due to unspecified security concerns, after suspending ties with the Vatican last month following comments by Pope Francis describing Ortega’s government as a “crude dictatorship.”
Ortega’s tough stance on the church has been met by a mix of fear and determination among the Central American nation’s Catholics.
“What’s most important is to live our faith,” said Maria Flores, who noted that the canceled street procession this Friday – when Christians worldwide mark the crucifixion of Jesus – will be the first time in over four decades she will miss it.
“I’ll still be there inside my church, and I won’t leave my priest alone,” she added, lamenting that Easter Sunday’s traditional procession will also be canceled and replaced with an indoor Mass at Managua’s main cathedral.
Eliseo Nuñez, a Nicaraguan political analyst in exile in neighboring Costa Rica, said government officials banned the processions to quash the prospect of further unrest.
“They live in fear and that’s why they impose this terror,” he said.
Neither Ortega’s office nor police responded to a request for comment.
The clash with the Catholic church escalated after judicial officials loyal to Ortega in February sentenced Bishop Rolando Alvarez, an outspoken government critic, to a 26-year prison term for treason and other charges, a day after he declined to be expelled to the United States as part of a prisoner release.
In 2005, former Marxist rebel Ortega converted to Catholicism ahead of winning the presidential election the following year. He has remained in power ever since.
Relations with the church soured in 2018, following deadly anti-government protests that Catholic leaders sought to mediate. Ortega viewed their efforts as an attempted coup.