Diriamba, Nicaragua – Supporters of the Nicaraguan government pushed, beat and scratched Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and other Catholic leaders as they tried to enter the Basilica of San Sebastian. “Murderers!” They shouted at them.
An auxiliary bishop was stabbed in the arm with some kind of sharp object.
The unpleasant scene in the normally quiet town of Diriamba, about an hour’s drive just south of the capital of Managua. This was a dramatic example of how quickly the wave of riots soured the relationship between the Catholic Church and the beleaguered President Daniel Ortega .
The church played a mediating role between the Sandinista government of Ortega and the dissenters, who demand their resignation amid protests and riots that caused some 450 deaths, most of them protesters.
Despite this, the institution is centered out by Ortega and his supporters, reviving the strong hostilities between the Sandinista base and the ecclesiastical hierarchy experienced in the 1980s. This situation seemed resolved in recent years, when the guerrilla commander had formed a kind of alliance with the bishops who once were critical of its movement.
Brenes, archbishop of Managua, went to Diriamba on July 9th. He met doctors and nurses who used to take care of wounded protesters and now took refuge inside the basilica, surrounded by pro-government forces.
“There was a fear that they would enter the church to remove the group of people who were there,” said the priest of the parish, Cesar Alberto Castillo Rodríguez.
Despite the disturbances at the entrance, the delegation of Brenes, which was the highest representative of the Vatican in the country, was able to evacuate people from the temple.
Two weeks later, and although there is a massive police presence, the church is covered with writings on behalf of the government.
“My commander stays,” says one in reference to Ortega, while others contain vulgar insults, signed by the acronym “JS” of Juventud Sandinista, a pro-government organization that acted as shock troops against the demonstrators.