HAVANA TIMES – A highly awaited meeting between President Daniel Ortega and the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (CEN) concluded today without concrete results, reported dpa news.
The disappointing outcome came at day 50 of what are now nationwide protests with a death toll of at least 127 persons and more than 1,200 injured. The protests threaten to continue escalating as the country grinds to a near halt with roadblocks on most major roads and barricades in many cities.
The 10 bishops met with Ortega and gave him a dialogue agenda geared to achieve the country’s “democratization,” which would include his early withdrawal from power, they said in their statement read shortly after concluding the meeting.
Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, president of CEN, who read the report to the journalists, said that the meeting of more than two hours with Ortega passed “in an atmosphere of serenity, openness and sincerity.”
The bishops expressed to Ortega “the pain and anguish of the people in the face of the violence suffered in recent weeks” and gave him “the consensus agenda from the suspended national dialogue for the democratization of the country,” the statement said.
All the bishops wore serious faces and did not allow questions from the press, which had waited for the moment with great expectation. Only Bishop Silvio Baez, hounded by the reporters as they left, commented curtly that Ortega could respond in a couple of days.
According to the statement, once the president answers in writing, the bishops will convene the national dialogue plenary to assess his response and determine if it is possible to resume talks.
The democratization agenda was proposed by the opposition Civic Alliance in the national dialogue that began on May 16 and was suspended on the 23rd due to lack of consensus.
The government refused to discuss the 40 points of that proposal, which its representatives described as a “route towards a coup d’état.” The agenda includes, among other issues, the withdrawal of Ortega from power, a reform of the Constitution and the call for early elections.
The bishops said in their statement that the proposal delivered to Ortega “reflects the feelings of many sectors of Nicaraguan society and expresses the desire of the majority of the population.”
“The lack of agreements between Ortega and the bishops to resume the dialogue shows the dictator clinging to power,” tweeted the journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a well-known critic of the Government.
“The country cries out for justice, democracy and free elections, only the people can take Ortega-Murillo out of power with civic pressure,” Chamorro added, after saying that the protests would “intensify.”
Ortega’s meeting with the bishops took place amid great tensions and while Managua is virtually shut off, due to the increase of “tranques” (roadblocks) on the main roads both to the interior of the country as well as on the Pan-American Highway, which connects the country with the rest of the continent.
Only in the last three days, paramilitary groups attacked the cities of Chinandega (northwest), Granada (south) and Masaya, neighboring the capital and that remains under the control of residents entrenched behind dozens of barricades. Several people died in those armed attacks.
Meanwhile, the United States Department of State announced visa restrictions to Nicaraguan government officials involved in the repression of opposition demonstrations.
“The political violence by the police and pro-government thugs against the people of Nicaragua, particularly against university students, shows flagrant disregard for human rights and is unacceptable,” said an official statement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decided to apply visa restrictions for individuals responsible for “human rights abuses and undermining democracy in Nicaragua,” the report said.
Without identifying those affected, he revealed that there are members of the police, municipal government officials and an official of the Ministry of Health, some of whose relatives could also suffer visa restrictions.
[Editor’s Note: a commentator on the 100% Noticias TV program said that many officials of the Ortega government liked to take their vacations in the United States but that now with the visa restrictions “no more trips to the evil empire.”]