Jinotega’s Roman Catholic Bishop is calling for peace and dialogue following a wave of deadly ambushes and shootouts between the Nicaraguan Army and a rearmed contra group operating in the northern municipalities of Pantasma and Wiwilí.
Bishop Carlos Enrique Herrera is the latest member of Nicaragua’s clergy to lament the growing violence in a silent war that the government denies is happening in the northern part of the country.
In an official communiqué released Oct. 14, Monsignor Herrera said the violent clashes in his department have claimed the lives of “innocent civilians at the hands of rearmed (contras) and the Nicaraguan Army.”
According to La Prensa, four people have died in the past two weeks in a series of ambushes and shootouts between the army and a rearmed contra group led by Gerardo de Jesús Gutiérrez, better known by the nom de guerre “El Flaco.”
El Flaco’s group has been playing cat and mouse with the army since last July, but has become particularly active in recent weeks. On Oct. 1, the group reportedly ambushed and assassinated José Cruz López, a 54-year-old local Sandinista party leader in a small community 40 kilometers outside of Wiwilí. That led to an intensified manhunt and two subsequent shootouts with the army. Two men were killed during a military operation on Oct. 9, but their identities are not clear (the army claims they were operatives in El Flaco’s band, but other accounts say they were innocent campesinos).
On Sunday, a second local Sandinista party activist and former army official, Trinidad Cano Torres, 56, was ambushed and killed in the rural community of Los Placeres del Coco, Wiwilí. According to La Prensa, Torres was killed by six men dressed in jungle fatigues who identified themselves as part of El Flaco’s rearmed rebel group.
“There are already various dead, soldiers as well as rearmed (contras),” Monsignor Herrera said in his church communiqué. “The poor people in the country are the ones who are suffering from this situation, which has led to social insecurity and a feeling of persecution.”
The priest added, “I ask with all my heart that the Army of Nicaragua act with respect to civil and human rights. I remind them that civilians are not to blame for the fact that there are armed groups operating in the area. We need to look for a way to dialogue with these armed people, because violence begets more violence.”
Herrera asked the government to “act wisely” and engage in a “true dialogue” to “avoid more violence and death in our Nicaragua, which has suffered so much.”
The Catholic bishop also called on the rearmed contras to “reflect” on their violent ways and “avoid more pain and bloodshed in our region.”
“Arms are not an effective instrument to demand your rights,” the bishop said. “You have to do that in a civic manner.”
The Nicaraguan Army continues to deny the existence of rearmed contra groups operating in Nicaragua. Sandinista authorities have not responded to the latest communiqué from the Catholic Church in Jinotega.