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Nicaraguan cardinal Obando y Bravo, controversial peacemaker, dies at 92

Nicaraguan cardinal Obando y Bravo, controversial peacemaker, dies at 92

Cardinal emeritus Miguel Obando y Bravo, an influential mediator in Nicaragua's many conflicts and in recent years an ally of President Daniel Ortega, died on Sunday at age 92, the Catholic Church announced.

His death came with his country once again in the throes of crisis, with more than 100 dead after weeks of protests calling for Ortega's resignation.

Acting as a politically savvy peacemaker in such conflicts was a hallmark of Obando's six decades as a priest, many of them as archbishop of Managua.

He was a sharp critic of the dictator Anastasio Somoza, who was ousted by Ortega's Sandinista guerrilla army in 1979.

He later turned his criticism on the newly installed Sandinista junta led by Ortega, criticizing its communist ideology, alleged human rights violations and vision of a "people's church" based on leftist liberation theology.

Ortega lost the presidency in a 1990 election. But as he charted his eventual return to power in 2007, he went out of his way to court the cardinal's favor with a mix of progressive social policy and support for a total abortion ban.

Obando even presided over Ortega's 2005 wedding to Rosario Murillo, the current vice president.

- Humble beginnings -

Obando was born February 2, 1926 into a farmworkers family in the mining town of La Libertad, also Ortega's birthplace.

Ordained in 1958, he was designated archbishop of Managua in 1970.

He was elevated to cardinal in 1985 by Pope John Paul II, becoming the first Central American cardinal ever.

The promotion gave him added clout at a time when priests were being persecuted by the Sandinista revolutionary government.

Ortega earlier this year acknowledged Obando's role in forging a peace agreement that ended the war between the Sandinistas and the US-backed Contra rebels in the 1980s.

But the two men were often at odds.

Obando is remembered in Nicaragua for a parable that appeared to allude to Ortega as a treacherous viper. Some analysts believe it cost Ortega the 1996 presidential elections, when he was running as an opposition candidate seeking a comeback.

In a sermon before thousands of faithful at Managua's cathedral, Obando told of two men, walking along a path, who come across a snake that is dying of cold.

One of the men approaches the snake to warm it with his hands, ignoring his friends' warning that the serpent is dangerous.

"When the viper revived because of the human warmth that the man had given, the animal bit him and killed him," Obando said.

Despite their differences, Ortega approached Obando in 2004 and they formed a controversial alliance, sealed with a mass that the cardinal celebrated on an anniversary of the Sandinista revolution.

A year later, a day before his death, Pope John Paul accepted Obando's resignation as archbishop of Managua.

And in 2016, the Sandinistas proclaimed him a "hero of national reconciliation."

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