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Cablegate: Nicaragua: Catholic Bishops Break Silence, Warn

VZCZCXRO6794
PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #1088/01 2351559
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 221559Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3075
INFO RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL//J2/J3/J5// PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 001088

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN SJUSTICE
DEPT FOR DRL GMAGGIO
DEPT FOR IRF ABORST
NSC FOR DFISK

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/21/2018
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM KIRF NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA: CATHOLIC BISHOPS BREAK SILENCE, WARN
OF 'DARKNESS AND DEATH'S SHADOW'

REF: MANAGUA 955

Classified By: DCM Richard Sanders for reasons 1.4 (b and d)

SUMMARY
- - - - -

1. (C) In a pastoral letter released August 15, the
Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference delivered a sharp critique of
the Ortega government and put on record the Catholic Church's
deep concern about the deteriorating conditions in the
country. The letter also made a strong appeal to all
Nicaraguans to participate in the November municipal
elections and to refuse to succumb to indifference and
apathy. Without denouncing President Daniel Ortega or any
political party by name, the bishops warned ominously that
the country was at risk of falling under the "shadows of
darkness," authoritarianism, and corruption. After
presenting the positive along with the more negative elements
of the political panorama, the bishops stressed the
importance of civic participation, government transparency,
and preserving conditions for a free, fair, and democratic
electoral process. Given the current leadership, they worry
that Nicaragua will be more adversely affected by world
problems than other countries. While the Church has
sometimes been accused of influencing the political arena in
violation of the secular state, this particular pronouncement
was welcomed by voices across the political spectrum during a
week in which the Ortega Administration and its minions
outdid themselves insulting critics and opponents, and
demonizing erstwhile allies. END SUMMARY

LIGHTS AND SHADOWS
- - - - - - - - - -

2. (SBU) To mark the traditional Catholic observance of the
Feast of the Assumption on August 15, the Episcopal
Conference of Nicaragua released a pastoral letter rebuking
the government's administration of the nation's problems,
particularly those affecting the poor. Warning of a
"dangerous" return to authoritarianism and the disappearance
of ethics in the political community, the bishops exhorted
all Nicaraguans to remain engaged in the November municipal
elections. Titled "Exhortation by the Nicaraguan Bishops
before the Current Circumstances of the Country and the 2008
Municipal Elections," the bishops stressed they had a
pastoral duty to their flock to speak from their faith and
their heart, and not from a "cold" academic, economic, or
political viewpoint. Careful to give credit where credit is
due, the pastoral letter first acknowledged the few bright
spots on the horizon, notably the government's efforts to
address social problems through free healthcare, education,
and a housing project aimed at the most disadvantaged. The
suspension of the energy crisis that had subjected the
country to daily power outages, and improvements in highway
repairs were also highlighted. On the other hand, warned the
letter, there are currently conditions that could take the
country into "darkness and the shadow of death" (Luke Ch.1,
V. 79). They worried that the "dangerous and dark shadow" of
extreme poverty, hunger, cost of food, escalating oil prices,
low wages, and other social factors were creating tensions
that could generate intrafamily violence, abandonment of
education, cultural stagnation, higher crime, narcotics
trafficking, illegal land grabs, forced migration, and even
armed conflict.

3. (SBU) Without mentioning Ortega by name, the letter
rebuked the country's leadership and administration on
multiple fronts. Lamenting the lack of "quality" in the
current government, the bishops observed that the country was
in the hands of a political system that favored individuals,
groups in power, and partisan interests which was not only
disheartening, but "detrimental to the common good."
Furthermore, the lack of transparency in the management and
distribution of foreign revenues had not only caused
consternation and unease among the Nicaraguan people and the
international donor community, it also signaled the "shadow
of corruption."

BACK TO AUTHORITARIANISM
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

MANAGUA 00001088 002 OF 003

4. (C) The pastoral letter was as much a wake up call to the
public as a critique of the government's performance. The
bishops deemed the government's intolerance of any criticism
and dissent, closure of democratic spaces, and the
deterioration of political pluralism as worrisome signs of a
return to authoritarianism. They attributed current civic
indifference and apathy toward the municipal elections and
other forms of political participation in part to the
replacement of an "ethical" political discourse to one full
of "deception, insults...and even slander" and the
government's systematic attempt to discredit adversaries. In
their estimation, a political discourse of vulgarity,
demagoguery, slander, fanaticism, and repression were
conducive to dictatorship rather than an authentic democracy.
Not all forms of criticism, disagreement, and diversity of
opinions should be seen as an attempt "to destabilize the
government," they admonished, and anyone who disagrees with
the political party in power should not be "constantly"
subjected to insults and recrimination. Reminding the public
of the importance of free thought and expression, they also
proclaimed that the freedom to one's opinion is a fundamental
human right and a "manifestation of the health of a
democratic society," contributing to transparency and good
governance. (NOTE: During his homily on Sunday August 17 at
Managua's Metropolitan Cathedral, parish priest Father
Bismarck Conde reiterated that it was dangerous for the
government to declare critics as "enemies," asserting that in
Nicaragua there was a diversity of opinion, and not all
Nicaraguans "think the same way." END NOTE.)

5. (SBU) The deterioration of social and economic stability
was also enabling the installation of authoritarianism,
warned the bishops. Instead of achieving peace and
reconciliation, the country was becoming more polarized as a
result of the confrontational and offensive political
dialogue. The constantly negative, combative, and "violent"
language, used by those in public office was fomenting class
hatred and division, alienating foreign investment, and
encouraging exclusion and repression, they observed. In the
midst of this creeping "shadow of darkness," the bishops
exhorted that now more than ever was the time for civic
activism and election participation.

IMPORTANCE OF CIVIC PARTICIPATION
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

6. (SBU) The bishops reiterated the importance of the
citizenry and civic participation throughout the letter.
Reminding Nicaraguans that their own constitution guarantees
the right of "every citizen to vote and to be elected," the
pastoral letter exhorted citizens to take responsibility and
exercise this right rather than leave the outcome of the
municipal elections in the "hands of one sector." Even when
there were doubts about the transparency of the electoral
process, citizens must persist with their vote in order to
elect officials committed to the common good. They also made
a call for lay persons and people of faith to become more
involved in the political field, to promote a more "just
order for society." It is important for citizens to have say
in the political community, quoting Pope John Paul II, in
order to select the best government officials and "to reject
those lacking the moral ideals and ethical qualities to
govern." According to the bishops, in the absence of proper
leadership elected by the people through free and fair
elections, the global crisis will have an even more
detrimental effect on Nicaragua than on other countries.

7. (SBU) Under the heading "Commitment to Creating the Best
Electoral Conditions, the pastoral letter then presented an
outline for how the voters, candidates, election authorities,
and the media each had a role and responsibility to preserve
democracy through the electoral process. They appealed to
voters to resist the fear of fraud, apathy, partisan
fanaticism, instability, blackmail, disillusionment, and
other factors that could adversely affect them at the voting
booth. The also reminded them of their obligation to choose
between "the bad and the good, between the good and the
best." The bishops called upon candidates to avoid the
"injustice" of putting partisan interests ahead of the good
of the country, and to use language and conduct that

MANAGUA 00001088 003 OF 003


demonstrates respect, moderation, realism, and integrity to
ensure the elections are carried out as "an authentic
democratic exercise." They specifically implored candidates
to not "defraud" the electorate, to set aside their personal
and partisan interests, and to focus their efforts on
confronting the serious problems of poverty and hunger.

8. (SBU) Turning to the Supreme Electoral Council and other
state institutions, the bishops reminded the authorities of
their obligation to uphold the law and to guarantee a clean
and transparent electoral process "based on the truth." "It
is time to overcome the temptations that emerge from the
shadows of evil and to bring to light the moral quality that
lies within everyone," they counseled. The bishops also
advised the media to uphold the truth and adhere to
objective, professional standards given its influence and
role in informing the public.

9. (SBU) The letter concluded asserting that the religious
community also had been called upon to help create and watch
over a favorable electoral climate and campaign. The bishops
explained their pastoral duty was not to interfere in the
political ambit, but to objectively mediate in preserving
respect, mutual coexistence, honesty, justice, and peace for
the people, and to carry out God's work. They closed with a
prayer for the country asking for the divine intervention of
St. Mary to remove the country from "the shadows of error."
The letter never mentioned President Ortega nor any member of
his administration by name. It was signed by the following
bishops: Monsignor Leopoldo Brenes, Archbishop of Managua
and President of the Episcopal Conference; Bernardo Hombach,
Bishop of Granada and Vice President of the Episcopal
Conference; Juan Abelardo Mata Guevera of Esteli, Socrates
Rene Sandigo Jiron of Juigalpa, Bosco Vivas Robelo of Leon,
Jorge Solorzano Perez of Matagalpa, Carlos Enrique Herrera
Gutierrez of Jinotega, and Pablo Schmitz Simon and David
Zywiec Sidor both of Bluefields.

NO OFFICIAL COMMENT ON PASTORAL LETTER
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

10. (C) Although Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo,
who serves inter alia as Director of Communications and
Citizenry, have been verbally sniping at and insulting their
critics throughout the week, the FSLN political apparatus
avoided responding directly to the pastoral letter. However,
in a defensive speech delivered in Jinotega the same day the
pastoral letter became public, President Ortega continued to
lambaste those who comment negatively about his
administration, seeking to disparage opponents for simply
criticizing his governance rather than offering any concrete
proposals for the country.

COMMENT
- - - -

11. (C) Although the Nicaraguan Catholic hierarchy,
particularly Monsignors Brenes and Hombach, have typically
sought to maintain a distance from the political sphere (ref
A.), the severity of this pastoral letter signals that the
Church is no longer content to remain bystanders as the
country careens from bad to worse with Ortega-Murillo at the
helm. Some pundits have deemed the letter "prophetic." The
significance of the municipal elections has compelled the top
church leadership to weigh in before the outcome
paradoxically paves the way for authoritarianism and greater
polarization. The pastoral letter capped off a week of
intense criticism by local media and outside observers
against the various mishaps of President Ortega, most notably
the remarks by former Mexican President Vicente Fox, Swedish
Ambassador to Nicaragua Eva Zetterburg, and Paraguayan
Minister for Women Gloria Rubin (septel). But while it has
had few inhibitions in unleashing invective against its
perceived adversaries, it will be difficult for the Ortega
team to try to discredit the Catholic Church to its advantage.


CALLAHAN

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