Nicaragua to close Red Cross offices in latest crackdown on civic groups

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Nicaragua has passed a law to close the country’s Red Cross, in a crackdown that has seen the government shut down religious orders, charities and civic groups.

The legislature voted to close the Nicaraguan Red Cross, accusing it of “attacks on peace and stability” during anti-government demonstrations in 2018. The local Red Cross says it just helped treat injured protesters during the demonstrations.

The legislature, which is dominated by President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista party, ordered the country’s Health Department to create “a new Nicaragua Red Cross”.

The current Red Cross, founded in 1958, is largely funded by domestic donations. The new law also will confiscate Red Cross properties in Nicaragua and turn them over to the government.

Rights groups estimate that during the government’s crackdown on the 2018 protests, 355 people were killed and as many as 2,000 were injured.

A political billboard in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, promoting Daniel Ortega as “the people’s president” (Alamy/PA)

Many of those groups provided healthcare or social services in an impoverished country where governmental services cannot cover the needs of the people.

Mr Ortega’s government has shut civic groups ranging from an equestrian centre to the 94-year-old Nicaraguan Academy of Letters.

Mr Ortega has accused the civic groups and opposition activists of working with foreign interests in an attempt to topple his government.

In April, the Vatican closed its embassy in Nicaragua after the country’s government proposed suspending diplomatic relations.

Two congregations of nuns, including from the Missionaries of Charity order founded by Mother Teresa, were expelled from Nicaragua last year.

Prominent Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez was sentenced to 26 years in prison last month after he refused to board an airplane that flew 222 dissidents and priests to exile in the United States. He also was stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship.

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