Fearing a Sandinista Comeback in Nicaragua

Protestants and Catholics Alike Remember Persecution Under Marxists

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AUSTIN, Texas, SEPT. 17, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The Sandinistas could return to power in Nicaragua, and that has religious groups nervous.

The Sandinista Front of National Liberation led a popular revolution in 1979, ousting dictator Anastasio Somoza and establishing a government that, among other things, attacked Christian communities that opposed the new regime.

There were neighborhood spy networks, bugged phones and mandatory Sunday workdays, requiring everyone to dig trenches, for what Sandinistas regarded as an «imminent» invasion by the United States.

Evangelical and Catholic leaders alike were harassed, arrested and even expelled from the country. «Revolutionary» vigilance was required in churches to ward off «counterrevolutionary» activity. Church property was confiscated and, sometimes, believers died violently or simply disappeared.

«I´m scared. I don´t want to live that life again,» Mennonite Lois Orozco said in statements published by the Compass news agency.

Orozco lived through 11 years of Marxism in Nicaragua, a hardship she endured as one of a handful of American Christian missionaries who remained after the Sandinista revolution led by Daniel Ortega. The Sandinistas ruled from 1979 to 1990.

Now, Ortega could be making a comeback.

The Marxist icon of the 1980s is in a close race in the Nov. 4 presidential election. Complicating the scenario is a devastating drought and plummeting coffee prices that have driven the country into one of its worst economic crises in years. Hunger and malnutrition are widespread in this nation of 1.5 million.

Rising anger among the nation´s poorest is working in Ortega´s favor, a recent Washington Post said.

«It´s the worst economic crisis since the ´60s,» Ortega told the Post. «A lot of it has to do with corruption and this government´s failure to meet people´s needs.» He contended that the government failed to protect small coffee growers from the growing foreign competition and that he would do better.

Ortega said the world has changed since he marched into Managua in 1979. If he wins in November, he told the newspaper, he would have no trouble «coexisting» with the Bush administration in Washington.

Whether those words reassure religious leaders is another matter. When the Sandinistas were in power, they viewed the then archbishop of Managua, now Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo, as a «black beast.» He suffered official persecution, as did several priests who were expelled or publicly harassed.

Other Catholic religious figures, however, collaborated with the Sandinista government, among them Ernesto Cardenal, a former Trappist monk who became Minister of Culture and who later received a public admonition from John Paul II. Cardenal´s brother Enrique, a Jesuit, was Minister of Education.

For now, Protestants such as the Orozco family remain leery of Ortega.

In 1982, the Sandinista Front of National Liberation labeled the Orozcos «enemies of the revolution,» and ordered them to leave the country in 24 hours. However, a pro-Sandinista Protestant group interceded, and the family was able to stay. The Orozcos still live in Managua, and Lois´ husband, Marcos, is president of the national Mennonite denomination.

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