The The Catholic Church of Nicaragua faces its most critical moment in its relationship with the government of President Daniel Ortegaafter the retention of the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, one of the most critical of the official administration.
Persecution, raids, jail, closure of Catholic media and exile of religious, are some of the repressive official actions faced by the Catholic Churchin the midst of the crisis that the country has been experiencing since 2018, when there were massive protests against the Ortega government.
“The Catholic Church is the most credible, trustworthy and credible (institution) in the population. The site Bishop Álvarez is one more episode in the struggle and repression that Ortega and (his wife and vice president, Rosario) Murillo are working to get him to bow to their positions,” sociologist Elvira Cuadra told AFP.
He added that “they have an open confrontational relationship against the church since 2018 (…) and before, in 2014, when the Episcopal Conference (CEN), published a letter that contained strong points about the institutionality and direction of the country. That letter was ignored and it bothered Ortega a lot.
Ortega, a 76-year-old former guerrilla fighter, has governed since 2007 and is accused of corruption and nepotism by his rivals, which he denies when he assures that he is building the country by restoring rights that were taken away from Nicaraguans during the neoliberal governments that preceded them.
“Let’s go forward. We know that the future belongs to us (…) a people that will never, ever again, take away peace,” Murillo used to say, in his daily midday speeches in media related to his government.
The Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, has been held for a week, blocked by the security forces in the Curia of that city located 127 kilometers north of Managua, accused of trying to destabilize the country. This Thursday, he assured that both he and the dozen people who accompany him are in good health.
“Thank God we are in good health, living in community (…) we are in the hands of God,” Álvarez said at a mass that he broadcast on Facebook, in which he added that they are living the “lockdown as a spiritual retreat.”
The authorities investigate the religious for trying to “organize violent groups” and inciting “to carry out acts of hatred (…) with the purpose of destabilizing the State of Nicaragua,” the police said last Friday.
Álvarez was detained after denouncing the closure of five religious radio stations and demand that the Ortega government “respect” freedom of worship before the “harassment” of the Church.
Álvarez, 55, was appointed Bishop of Matagalpa by the Vatican in 2011.
In his pastoral mission usually visits rural towns where it is accepted by the communities. In 2015, she led a massive march in Rancho Grande (Matagalpa) to oppose a mining concession that the government had granted to a Canadian company.
The confrontation with the Catholic Church has motivated messages of solidarity from their peers in Latin Americawith calls for dialogue in Nicaragua.
In March, the Vatican representative, Monsignor Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, left the country unexpectedly and, according to church authorities, his relations with the government “were not good.”
The Vatican, through a statement, had described as “incomprehensible” the expulsion of its representative.
In July, Missionaries of Charity nuns of the order of Saint Teresa of Calcutta left Nicaragua after Congress closed their offices and it was alleged that they were not accredited to carry out social assistance operations.
During the 2018 protests, during the armed attack by paramilitaries against demonstrators, Álvarez went out in procession with the Blessed Sacrament, one of the sacred symbols of Catholics, praying for the aggression to stop.
The president faces a political crisis that has lasted for the last four years, triggered by opposition demonstrations in 2018, due to a social security reform that led to a request for his resignation.
Silence of the Pope
Before returning to government, Ortega apologized to the Catholic Church for the tense relations during his first administration (1979-1990). They deteriorated in 2018, when several temples opened their doors to shelter injured protesters.
The government maintains that these demonstrations were part of an attempted coup promoted by the opposition with the support of Washington and of which the bishops were complicit.
The Pope Francis refrained from making public comments on the situation in Nicaragua since the recent incidents.
The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) will pronounce this Friday in Washington on a draft resolution that condemns the “forced closure” of NGOs, as well as “the harassment and arbitrary restrictions of religious organizations and voices critical of the government” in Nicaragua.
The text once again calls for the release of political prisoners and reiterates its offer to dialogue with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who has ignored similar calls in the past.