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Isolation and retaliation: Bishop Rolando Álvarez marks one year in prison for standing up to Ortega and Murillo

The Sandinista regime is trying to shut down the loud demands for the release of the Catholic leader by bringing in Cash Luna, a pastor with links to drug trafficking, to Nicaragua

Wilfredo Miranda
El obispo Rolando Álvarez, en mayo de 2022 y en su parroquia de la diócesis de Matagalpa.
Bishop Rolando Álvarez, in May 2022.MAYNOR VALENZUELA (REUTERS)

Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Alvarez completed one year in prison on August 4. Since his violent capture at the headquarters of the diocese of Matagalpa, in northern Nicaragua, the prelate has been under house arrest, was sentenced to 26 years in prison for “treason”, transferred to the penitentiary system and has resisted on two occasions to be banished “from his homeland”. Under total isolation in La Modelo prison, the religious leader has emerged as the most solid symbol of resistance faced by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

Monsignor Alvarez is a very annoying political prisoner for the presidential couple who, in two attempts to get rid of him, have tried to force him into exile. However, the bishop’s consistency in remaining in his country has been immovable. First, he refused to board the exile plane in which 222 political prisoners traveled to the United States last February. And then, a negotiation between the Sandinista regime and the Vatican fell off due to the same refusal of the religious man. As EL PAÍS had reported at the beginning of last July, Pope Francis asked the president of Brazil, Lula Da Silva, to intercede in order to free the bishop.

“We continue, we are trying to negotiate,” the Pontiff told Vida Nueva, a digital magazine focused on religious topics. Diplomatic sources have told EL PAÍS that Monsignor Álvarez insisted that he would only accept to leave prison if it was to stay in Nicaragua, at the same time he demanded the regime to cease the persecution of Catholicism. Since there was no agreement between the parties, the Vatican did not decide to force the bishop to go into exile, as they did with the auxiliary bishop of Managua Silvio Baéz in April 2019. The Holy See has assessed that Alvarez, symbol of a persecuted church, is too popular and keeps afloat the faith of devotees whose freedom of worship is severely limited in Nicaragua.

Various political, religious and social sectors protested on August 4, day that marked the first year of Álvarez’s imprisonment. The movement Acción Dale Vida Nicaragua launched a day of prayer and a campaign, called Eucharist for Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, in which it invites “the Nicaraguan people to show their support and demand that the religious be allowed” to “receive communion and celebrate the Eucharist, since this August 4 marks one year since he has been unable to perform these sacred acts”.

“As St. Paul says, the word of God is not chained. With you also share the unjust isolation and loneliness of some priests of our suffering Church, who have only wanted to be faithful to Jesus by announcing the truth of God and being at the side of the most suffering people”, said Monsignor Baéz from his exile in Miami, who together with Álvarez is another of the bishops most abhorred by the Ortega-Murillo family.

Pastor Cash

In an attempt to counteract the conversation generated by the anniversary of the imprisonment of Monsignor Alvarez, the regime has organized an “evangelist crusade” in Managua, called “nights of glory”. Several evangelical pastors arrived at the Managua airport to participate in the event, but among them was Cash Luna. This Guatemalan pastor is the most controversial since, according to a Univision investigation, he started his church, Casa de Dios, with money from drug trafficking and money laundering.

The Sandinista government has also masked religious persecution in recent weeks by promoting celebrations in various cities: from dances, bullfights and processions, while attacks against Catholic religious continue. At the same time, the case of money laundering that the Sandinista justice system is pursuing against the Catholic Church continues. The accusations - so far presented without proof - even reach Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and the diocese presided over by Bishop Alvarez.

Former Judicial Branch official and expert in the administration of justice Yader Morazán made an account this Friday “of the arbitrariness” in the trial and conviction of Monsignor Álvarez. “Although you may not believe it, Monsignor Alvarez was left waiting for a mock trial, but neither he nor his lawyer, nor the witnesses were taken to court or to depose lies, and he knew of his 26-year sentence, until the day he was exhibited,” said the jurist in exile.

Morazán had access to the judicial file used against the bishop and revealed that the evidence on which the prosecution is based are tweets, videos, interviews of the religious and media articles that reviewed the critical homilies of Monsignor Alvarez.

“It is important to highlight that Monsignor Alvarez has been deprived of his physical and religious freedom for 365 days, he was subjected to a trial in absentia and was denied even the right to know his sentence and the right to appeal. All for preaching the truth, accompanying his flock and refusing to be expelled from the country together with 222 political prisoners”, criticized the lawyer.

Bishop Alvarez is the most prominent Catholic figure to be imprisoned by the Ortega and Murillo regime. However, two other priests are imprisoned and two more remain under investigation. The regime’s onslaught has also forced at least 80 religious leaders - 44 men and 36 women - to leave Nicaragua between 2018 and 2023. Of these, 41 were expelled from the national territory, 19 left the country for personal security reasons, 12 were denied re-entry to the country and eight were banished and stripped of their Nicaraguan nationality.

“So many times during this time I have asked myself why you are there... Those who, insatiably thirsty for power and blinded by arrogance and evil, have Nicaragua subdued, want to show you as responsible for non-existent crimes that they themselves have invented,” said Baez, who last spoke with his counterpart hours before being imprisoned a year ago. “They have fought to break you and, unable to do so, they have fabricated a case against you with cynicism and slander, as Herod and Pilate did with Jesus. They have fought to silence you and, failing to do so, they have subjected you to a farce of a judicial process that not even they themselves believe, until they have unjustly imprisoned you in jail. They want to deceive us, but they will be the ones deceived; they want to condemn you, but they are condemning themselves (...) Your word and your presence made the tyrants uncomfortable, that is why they have imprisoned you”.

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