28 November 2013, The Tablet

Sandinista bid for ‘absolute power’

Plans to change the constitution of Nicaragua to allow President Daniel Ortega, 68, to win unlimited terms in power have been denounced as a major step towards totalitarian government by the country’s bishops. Under the proposed constitutional changes, the limit of two consecutive presidential terms would be lifted.

In a signed 22 November letter presented to MPs, the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua stated: “We do not consider it appropriate to propose amendments to our Constitution,” which they claimed were motivated by a government desire to establish “absolute long-term power”.

The bishops went on to claim that separation of powers at government level was currently “non-existent” and the country was blighted by “continuous … electoral irregularities and violations of the Constitution.” Quoting from the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus of John Paul II, they warned: “A democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly-disguised totalitarianism”.

The Sandinista National Liberation Front party enjoys more than the two thirds majority required to pass the proposals into law if they are presented to the National Assembly in December as expected.

Under Mr Ortega, the party has been in power since 2007, after an earlier period in government that ended in 1990. Mr Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla, has not announced whether he plans to run again in 2016.

Under the constitutional amendments, the army would also be given total power over telecommunications and radio.

The Sandinista party has had strained relations with the Church and human rights activists. “One cannot talk openly and honestly without being subject to persecution by the authorities,” said Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata Guevar, President of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights.

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