Nicaragua suspends diplomatic relations with the Holy See. The Vatican confirmed on Sunday corresponding messages of the investigative Nicaraguan portal "El Confidencial". The representative of the Nicaraguan government is said to have delivered the decision orally. The diplomatic mission of Nicaragua in the Vatican and the nunciature in Nicaragua are closed. The nuncio in Nicaragua was therefore given one week to leave the country. From the Nicaraguan side, there was initially no confirmation. The Foreign Ministry said in a press release on Sunday evening only that it was considering taking this step.

Tjerk Brühwiller

Correspondent for Latin America, based in São Paulo.

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Matthias Rüb

Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta, based in Rome.

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With the move, Nicaragua joins a small group of communist, Muslim and Buddhist countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican, including China and Saudi Arabia.

The severance of relations is seen as a reaction of autocratic President Daniel Ortega and his wife and Vice President Rosário Murillo to statements by Pope Francis. In an interview with the Argentine portal "Infobae", the Church leader had for the first time clearly commented on the situation in Nicaragua and the attacks of the Ortega regime on the Catholic Church and its dignitaries. Pope Francis spoke, among other things, of a "Hitler dictatorship" in Nicaragua and praised the imprisoned Bishop Rolando José Álvarez. Álvarez has become a fiery adversary of Ortega within the Church. In February, he was supposed to be flown to the United States along with 222 other released dissidents, but refused to leave the country, after which Ortega called him "crazy," sentenced him to 26 years in prison, and sent to a maximum-security prison.

After the systematic elimination of the political opposition in the years since the mass protests of 2018, the attacks of the Ortega regime no longer stop at the church. Nevertheless, Pope Francis had always relied on dialogue. The Holy See always tries to save diplomatic relations and what can be saved through patience and dialogue, the Pope said last December in an interview with the Spanish daily ABC. But there seems to be nothing left to save in Nicaragua. Ortega even forbade the Church this year to hold the traditional crusade processions during Lent and Holy Week. On the occasion of the commemoration of the anniversary of the death of the former guerrilla leader Augusto César Sandino at the end of February, Ortega described the Catholic priests, bishops and the Pope as "a mafia" who did not stand for the message of Christ.

In the mass protests of 2018 and 2019, demonstrators demanding Ortega's resignation had found refuge in churches. Ortega and Murillo accuse the Catholic clergy of plotting with the government in Washington to overthrow the government. In February, Bishop Álvarez was sentenced to more than 26 years in prison for "conspiracy and spreading false news" after refusing to be deported to the US along with the other opponents of the regime. Pope Francis had then cautiously expressed "concern" and "sadness" about the situation in Nicaragua. "We have a bishop in prison here, a very serious, very capable man. He wanted to give his testimony and did not accept the banishment," Francis said of the case of Álvarez, which he addressed publicly for the first time.

In the domestic political crisis, which has been going on for years and has been escalating since 2018, the Church in Nicaragua as well as human rights organizations and independent media have repeatedly criticized the government's violent actions. In the meantime, countless non-governmental organisations have been banned, hundreds of political prisoners and opposition politicians have been expatriated. A few days ago, the regime in Managua also ordered the closure of Caritas and two Catholic universities in Nicaragua and confiscated their assets. These are the University of John Paul II and the Christian Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UCAN). The German Bishops' Conference also protested against the closure of educational institutions. This would "hit the poorest" and undermine educational opportunities, said the universal Church representative, Bishop Bertram Meier, on Twitter.