By Amílcar Sanatan, CCSJ Board member
Peace is the fruit of justice. We are reminded that, “Peace is not merely an absence of war; nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of the balance of power between enemies; nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called an enterprise of justice” (§78, Gaudium et Spes).
In Nicaragua, State-authorised repression has led to the placement of Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Matagalpa under house arrest, the forced closure of six Catholic radio stations and continued marginalisation of faith-based NGOs in an effort to silence democratic voices seeking more justice, equity, and fairness in society.
These recent events further complicate the ever-changing and complex relationship between the Catholic Church in Nicaragua and Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front.
In moments of social unrest and political repression, long-standing institutions such as the Catholic Church have been widely seen as the principal trusted and legitimate social institution that can construct processes for national peace in the public interest.
This is why this attack on the religious and civic freedoms of the local Church in Nicaragua is fundamentally an attempt to remove the Church in advancing a just vision for public life and society.
Priests and members of the religious order are not any freer in Haiti than they are in Nicaragua. Kidnappings, public violence and the exploitation by gangs and militants in the streets of Port-au-Prince have limited the capacity of the Church to safely provide refuge for displaced Haitians. They still work to provide relief for the people of Haiti.
The kidnapping of Fr Jean-Nicaisse Milien along with nuns and civilians for 20 days in April 2021 by the 400 Mawozo gang showed the descent to disorder in the society since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Haiti’s current political crisis, which has been exacerbated by vulnerabilities to environmental risk, has left a vacuum for gangs to fill. Cars burning in flames in the street, children with guns defending turfs, immeasurable sexual violence against women and girls and the entrenchment of the culture of bribes and ‘street taxes’ for goods, services and aid moving in and out of communities are commonplace.
The situation has been so atrocious that some of the leading voices in the faith-based community have disavowed the original position by civil society and social movements for a democratic, locally led process to restore governance to the society.
Now, some actors have called for direct international intervention to relieve the majority of the population, particularly, the urban poor in Port-au-Prince from living in fear and under the heavy hand of gangs.
Though the question of national sovereignty should never be dismissed, even in the direst political crises, decades of political governance and international development work without challenging the institutional and cultural dimensions of corruption have brought Haiti to its knees again.
Catholic social teaching promotes an outward-looking theology that seeks to understand the sacredness of human life through the works of justice. How do we understand how precious human life is if not through interfacing with it in many contexts, conditions, and histories of others, including our own?
The examples of Nicaragua and Haiti are not extreme examples of violence. This fragile reality in the Caribbean and Americas region is possible when guns threaten collective peace and mobility, public officials abuse their office for private gain, well-intentioned and not-so-well-intentioned workers for development and charity turn a blind eye to corruption, and muscle is seen as the most important means to govern rather than democracy, communication, compassion, respect for diversity and the inclusion of people in the margins of our society.
A Church of conscience is crucial to the safeguarding of our nation in Trinidad and Tobago, the region, and global community. Prayer in the form of social action to protect the rights of citizens to speak up for democracy, develop zones of peace for children, especially, girls and establish models of transparent and accountable governance of our societies, for example, are crucial to realisation of life on Earth as it is in Heaven.