Cardinal Obando y Bravo, who helped mediate Nicaraguan struggles, dies at 92

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaragua’s Roman Catholic cardinal emeritus, Miguel Obando y Bravo, who supported the Sandinistas in their struggle to topple the Somoza dictatorship and later helped mediate peace efforts between them and “Contra” rebels, died on Sunday at age 92.

“The Nicaraguan church is in mourning,” the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference said in a statement. The cause of his death was not immediately known.

Obando y Bravo, an outspoken defender of human rights, opposed the repressive Somoza family dictatorship that ruled Nicaragua for 44 years, and supported the leftist Sandinistas’ right to use arms to bring down the government.

Once the Sandinistas took power in 1979, they improved living conditions for some poor Nicaraguans and introduced free healthcare and universal education. But they were criticized for their own human rights abuses and forced military conscription and labeled church leaders “counterrevolutionaries” in the service of Washington.

That led to a clash between Obando y Bravo and Daniel Ortega, who headed the Cuban-backed Sandinista government during the 1980s. The cardinal called the Sandinistas godless and supported their right-wing, U.S.-backed Contra opponents.

Still, Obando y Bravo helped mediate ceasefire talks between Ortega’s Sandinista government and the Contras who were ensnared in a 1980s civil war that cost at least 30,000 lives.

He later reconciled with the Sandinistas, presiding over a Mass in 2004 commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, and officiated at Ortega’s wedding in 2005 to his longtime partner, Rosario Murillo.

Ortega declared Obando y Bravo a “National Hero of Peace and Reconciliation” in 2016.

Obando y Bravo, who was archbishop of Managua from 1970 to 2005, largely withdrew from public life in recent years and had not commented publicly on the deaths of at least 96 people in recent protests against Ortega, who returned to office in 2007 after 17 years out of power.

Reporting by Oswaldo Rivas; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Peter Cooney