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Nicaragua’s Government Denies Use of Public Space to Evangelical Group

09/28/2016 Washington, D.C. – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Alianza Evangelica Nicaraguenze (Evangelical Alliance of Nicaragua, AEN) was recently denied access to the communal plaza of La Biblia (The Bible) in the nation’s capital, Managua. The Nicaraguan government, headed by David Ortega Saavedra, obstructed the AEN from conducting a prayer and worship vigil in the plaza in early September and will prevent its use throughout the month of October.

President Ortega originally opened the plaza in 2008 and designated it as a space for the use of evangelical prayer meetings and other religious ceremonies. Administrative responsibility for the plaza was handed over to the local municipal authorities of Managua, under the leadership of then mayor Jose Dionisio Marenco. Ortega and Marenco have a long-standing friendship and are both members of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), a historically socialist party that has been a key player in Nicaraguan politics since the late 1970s.

Pastor Mauricio Fonseca Pereira, president of the AEN, explained to La Prensa, one of Managua’s newspapers, “We had envisioned and planned a prayer campaign, along with praise and worship for each Friday of the month through October, for the peace and elections in Nicaragua. We had previously spoken with Fidel Moreno, but I do not know what happened, and why they have denied us the plaza.” Fidel Moreno, secretary general of Managua’s municipal government, is responsible for mediating and coordinating use of public spaces.

In August, Noticia Cristiana reported that President Ortega’s administration implemented a new policy regarding foreign missionaries. The Ministry of Governance, Nicaragua’s federal executive and enforcement agency, imposed stricter requirements for individuals and ministries that sought to enter the country. As a result, the policy prevented approximately 300 Mexican and Central American missionaries from visiting Nicaragua for a religious conference that took place in late August.

Pastor Fonseca explains that Nicaragua has witnessed a growth in the percentage of evangelicals, making the denial of access all the more surprising. Statistical estimates from leading universities in the country show that 50 percent of the Nicaraguan population identifies as evangelicals. Figures range as low as 46 percent and as high as 56 percent.

The denial of access to the plaza comes during a strategic time in Nicaragua’s electoral process. Nicaragua’s elections are to be held on November 6.

Pastor Fonseca thinks that the denial of access is related to the upcoming elections and the government wanting to reduce the possibility of public disruptions. In his concluding remarks to La Prensa, he stated, “Although we have been denied access to the plaza, the prayer vigils will take place in churches and temples. It will always be about the peace of the country and we will still do it throughout October, a month before the elections, in the hope that the electoral process will unfold in a peaceful way.

Rafael Cardona, ICC’s Latin America Correspondent, stated, “The intent of the AEN event appears to be peaceful. In fact, the group wants to pray for the wellbeing and future of Nicaragua. It is deeply concerning to us that the AEN was denied the right to use the plaza, especially when the space was originally designated for religious purposes. Leftist Latin American governments tend to get nervous before elections and take measures to suppress speech or any religious activity that might cause dissent. It is disheartening to see this happen to a religious group that has good intentions for its country. ICC will continue to pray for Nicaragua, its upcoming elections, and the churches and groups that face obstructions to religious freedom from the government.”