Daniel Ortega, the President of Nicaragua, has accused bishops of stirring up unrest in the country, comparing them to “satanical criminals”.
Speaking at a rally to mark the 39th anniversary of the revolution that brought him the power, Ortega said protesters against his government were being financed by a “North American empire” and that bishops who were attempted to mediate were “behaving like coup plotters”.
More than 280 people have been killed in three months of protests across the country, most of them young protesters. The country was formerly one of the most stable in Central America.
Speaking alongside his wife Rosario Murillo, who is also his Vice-President, Ortega spoke as if his security forces had already crushed the protests.
“The Satanists have to be exorcised. It has been a painful battle. Painful because we have confronted an armed conspiracy financed by internal forces we know and external forces.”
Murillo also claimed that government forces had been victorious over “diabolical forces”.
However, Managua’s auxiliary bishop Silvio José Baez tweeted: “A state cannot proclaim itself victorious over its own people that it has oppressed and massacred.”
The country’s bishops have been increasingly vocal in their criticism of Ortega’s government. Last week, they announced they announced a day of prayer and fasting as “an act of atonement for the profanation carried out in recent months against God”. On that day, they promised to “pray the prayer of exorcism to St Michael Archangel”.
There has been a spate of attacks on churches and on clergy, including the Archbishop of Managua and the country’s apostolic nuncio.
On July 9, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes Solorzano of Managua, his auxiliary, Bishop Silvio Jose Baez, and Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, the apostolic nuncio, were pummelled as they attempted to protect St Sebastian Basilica in the city of Diriamba from an incursion by a pro-government mob.
“In recent days, the repression and violence carried out by the pro-government paramilitaries against the people who protest civically has gotten worse,” the country’s bishops said. “Today, like never before, human rights are being violated in Nicaragua.”