The Vatican representative to Nicaragua has left the country and closed its embassy there amid continuing tensions between Managua and the Holy See, the Vatican News portal has reported.
Bilateral relations had been on the brink of collapse after Pope Francis in an interview last week referred to the government of socialist president Daniel Ortega as a dictatorship.
The portal said the diplomat, Monsignor Marcel Diouf, had traveled on Friday to Costa Rica.
The closure of the embassy “occurred as a result of a request from the Nicaraguan government,” Vatican News said.
It said custody of the apostolic nunciature in Managua had been “entrusted to the Italian Republic,” under terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
In an interview with Argentine portal Infobae on March 10, Francis described Ortega’s government as a “gross dictatorship” led by an “unbalanced” president.
In the interview, the Argentine pope also expressed concern, without naming him, for Nicaraguan bishop Rolando Alvarez, who in February was sentenced to 26 years in prison for “undermining national integrity,” among other charges.
Alvarez has been under house arrest since August and refused to be deported along with 222 political dissidents to the United States.
Soon after, the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that “a suspension of diplomatic relations (with the Vatican) has been proposed.”
Days before the pontiff’s comments, the Managua government closed two universities affiliated with the Catholic Church.
Since 2007, Ortega has engaged in increasingly authoritarian practices, exiling or jailing dissidents and rivals, quashing presidential term limits and seizing control of all branches of the state.