‘Let them be free, I will pay their sentence’: Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez refuses exile

The Catholic prelate, the most critical religious voice of the Daniel Ortega regime, was taken to La Modelo prison after refusing to board a plane carrying 222 political prisoners to the US

Rolando Alvarez
Rolando Álvarez, bishop of the diocese of Matagalpa.MAYNOR VALENZUELA (REUTERS)

On the list of 222 political prisoners who were banished from Nicaragua by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo on the morning of February 9, the name of the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, who is facing a political trial for the alleged crimes of “conspiracy and spreading false news,” was absent. According to sources within the Catholic Church, the police removed him from the building where he was under house arrest and transferred him to La Modelo prison, after he refused to board the plane ferrying the dissidents to Washington.

“Let them go free, I will pay their sentence,” Bishop Álvarez said, according to the same sources. His family has not seen the prelate since the police took him away. Last Tuesday, the Sandinista judge presiding over the case, Nadia Camila Tardencilla Rodríguez, brought Álvarez’s trial forward from March 28 to February 15. Religious sources concur that the proceedings have been at an impasse because Ortega had offered the bishop “exile or jail,” but Álvarez flatly refused to “leave his homeland.”

Bishop Álvarez has provided the most critical voice within the Catholic Church over human rights violations in Nicaragua and was arrested in August 2022, along with seven others - priests, deacons, seminarians, and a layman – when police staged a dawn raid on the parish house in Matagalpa. In his popular sermons, Álvarez was critical of the excesses of Ortega’s government. Noted for his firm and determined character, during his arrest he knelt while armed police surrounded him.

The Catholic hierarchy and the Vatican have so far maintained their silence in the face of religious persecution in Nicaragua, which already has seen nine priests and other churchmen sentenced in a climate of prohibition, while a growing number of parish priests have been forced into exile.

According to judicial sources consulted by EL PAÍS, the Prosecutor’s Office in Nicaragua has “fabricated evidence” against Bishop Álvarez, based on his critical homilies, shared on social media and with which he is suspected of attempting to “destabilize” the government, leading the authorities to label him a “great conspirator.”

Following the arrival of the exiles in Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “The release of these individuals, one of whom is a US citizen, by the government of Nicaragua marks a constructive step towards addressing human rights abuses in the country and opens the door to further dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua regarding issues of concern.” Blinken added that “concerted American diplomacy” had led to the release of the political prisoners and that President Joe Biden’s administration would continue to support the Nicaraguan people.

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