ROME – Both Panama and Nicaragua are facing social unrest and have both turned to the Catholic Church for help to ease the situation. However, the Nicaraguan government eventually turned against the hierarchy when things did not improve. Panama, on the other hand, is optimistic that a peaceful resolution is still in sight.
Protesters have taken to the streets for more than a week in Panama. People are unhappy with fuel prices, which have almost doubled, and inflation, which they haven’t seen in years.
To try to avoid an escalation of the crisis, the government has called on the Catholic Church to mediate a dialogue.
A country of four million people, 70% of whom are Catholic, Panama has always maintained a fairly stable service economy that uses the US dollar as its official currency. This helped contain inflation, but it has now reached 4%.
Some of the rallies resulted in violent clashes with the police.
President Laurentino Cortizo promised on Monday to extend the gas price freeze for public transportation to all Panamanians, but protesters did not back down. Thousands of people marched in Panama City and other cities across the country, while roadblocks paralyzed traffic on the Pan American Highway.
Like every other leader in the region, Cortizo blamed the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the country’s economic troubles.
“Given the government’s call to play a mediating role to find an inclusive and participatory solution to the situation that the country is going through, we communicate to the citizens that the Catholic Church accepts the invitation to play the role of mediator in building the consensus necessary for peaceful coexistence,” said Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa, Archbishop of Panama City.
In a statement released on Wednesday, he urged all those “who are called to this dialogue to give us the opportunity to make the appropriate decisions for the common good. People deserve honesty, consistency and respect from all, without rigid positions or preconditions that prevent dialogue.
In this context, “the contribution of the experts in mediation that the church has in the social pastoral Caritas and the Catholic University of Santa María la Antigua” is made available.
The dialogue efforts, which will be overseen by the church, will bring together the government, associations and representative movements which in recent days have demonstrated in different parts of the country to reject the increase in fuel, basic foodstuffs and Medication.
“The people deserve honesty, consistency and respect from all, without rigid positions or preconditions that prevent dialogue,” Ulloa said in a video message.
Persecution of the Catholic Church by President Daniel Ortega continues in Nicaragua.
After deporting the Missionaries of Charity Last week, on Wednesday, Sandinista police arrested Father Leonardo Urbina of the Perpetuo Socorro church in Boaco in the center of the country, about two hours from Managua, the capital.
In 2018, as the country went through its own civil uprising, the Nicaraguan government also reached out to its Catholic bishops, asking for help to mediate in a process of dialogue. However, when it became clear that no agreement would be reached, Ortega and his vice president/wife Rosario Murillo called the bishops putschists and the offspring of the devil.
Since then, repression against the Church has steadily increased, with the situation worsening in the last four months after the expulsion of the papal representative in Nicaragua, Archbishop Waldemar Sommertag.
Sources from the Archdiocese of Managua said the charges against Urbina are for sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl. However, no evidence has been adduced and nothing is known about the alleged victim.
It is the second time in a month that police have arrested a priest who has expressed his opposition to the Ortega regime under allegations of sexual abuse. Father Manuel Salvador García was arrested following statements by a woman that he had abused her. However, when it came time to testify, she said the accusations were false.
The woman who accused Garcia was sentenced to five years in prison, while the priest was sentenced to two years for brandishing a knife on his parish premises. He was trying to dissuade a violent mob from entering the gate and attacking him.
These are not the first clergy personally affected by Ortega’s anticlerical push.
Bishop Silvio Jose Baez has been exiled to Miami since 2019. Father Edwin Roman, who openly opposed government forces’ crackdown on civil protests in 2018, was forced into exile earlier this year and is with the bishop in Miami. From there, both have remained steadfast in their criticism of what they describe as a dictatorial regime.
For most of May, two of Managua’s parishes were besieged for several weeks, and military and police personnel barred a priest and a bishop from leaving. Rolando Alvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa, had to seek refuge in the Santo Cristo de las Colinas parish in the country’s capital after being harassed all day and his family home invaded by the authorities.
On May 20, the government expropriated the Catholic television channel, run by the episcopal conference; within days it had morphed into a pro-government, state-funded signal.
On July 6, the 15 nuns of the order founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta left their home in Managua, escorted by immigration authorities, accused of money laundering, terrorist financing and proliferation financing weapons of mass destruction.
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