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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Ortega wants to “silence” Church in Nicaragua, says bishop

Nicaraguan Catholic bishop Rolando Alvarez, who began an “indefinite fast” in protest against a “police siege” against him, denounced Friday that the government of Daniel Ortega wants to “silence the voice of the Church” against injustices.

“What happens is that the government has always pretended a mute Church, does not want us to speak, does not want us to announce hope to the people, nor denounce injustice,” Alvarez told AFP in the parish Cristo Santo in Managua, from where on Thursday night he declared an “indefinite fast”.

It is a kind of hunger strike where he will only drink water and serum. Alvarez is bishop of Matagalpa and apostolic administrator of the diocese of Esteli (north). He is also in charge of the Communication area of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (CEN).

According to the religious, the government wants to “silence the voice of the church”, but “if we remain silent, the stones will cry out”, he said.

Alvarez has previously criticized the repression, the imprisonment of opponents and questioned the ambitions of power. More than 40 opponents, including seven presidential hopefuls, were arrested in 2021 and sentenced to prison terms of up to 13 years for “undermining integrity” and other crimes.

All this before Ortega, a former guerrilla in power since 2007, was re-elected in November 2021 for a fourth consecutive term. He accuses his opponents of wanting to overthrow him with Washington’s support.

The government also declared illegal dozens of civil society organizations and expelled the OAS from its territory. “In Nicaragua, everyone is living in a situation of terror. One moves through the streets and sees how the patrols come and go,” said Alvarez.

“Here not only religious, priests, but also the immense majority of Nicaraguans live in a permanent harassment”, he accused. Hundreds of parishioners expressed their solidarity with the bishop through social networks and with prayers in the parishes.

“Rolando, friend, the people are with you”, “We are united in prayer for Monsignor Alvarez and all the priests”, “God protect him”, said some of the messages he received on the networks.

Higher orders

The priest began the fast after denouncing on Thursday that he was “persecuted” throughout the day by the police. He revealed that when he asked the agents to stop pursuing him, the policemen told him that they obeyed “superior orders”.

“They entered my circle of family privacy (…) putting my family’s safety at risk,” he charged. Faced with this situation, the bishop sought shelter in a parish in Managua, where he was taken in by the priest Carlos Herrera. The church was surrounded by police.

He said he will abandon his protest when the police commit, through the president or vice-president of the Episcopal Conference, to respect his integrity and that of his family.

“It is an act of salvation, it is not political, it is of faith,” so that “my individual rights as a citizen” be respected, he explained later during a virtual Mass this Friday from the parish, which was broadcast on the Catholic Channel, which is broadcast on cable.

“I will not allow my rights to be violated,” he added, and pleaded for “respect for the diversity of ideas and opinions.”

Following the mass, the state-owned Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Post (Telcor, regulator), ordered the removal of the Catholic Channel of the Episcopal Conference from the cable television grid.

“We inform our subscription television users that by indications of Telcor, regulator, channel 51, Canal Católico, is being removed from the service programming grid,” reported telecommunications company Claro Nicaragua on Twitter.

According to the local press, the measure was extended to the rest of the country’s cable TV companies.

Accused by the government

Ortega has repeatedly and publicly accused the bishops of “coup plotters” for sheltering in their temples protesters who fled or were injured during the repression of the protests that erupted against the government in 2018.

Since then, relations between the government and the Church have been strained.

Catholic hierarchs also tried unsuccessfully to mediate a dialogue between the government and the opposition after that crisis, and conveyed to Ortega the opposition proposal to bring forward elections to shorten his term in office.

“I was hurt that my bishops had the attitude of coup plotters,” Ortega reproached them at the time.

“Those who still dare to shout (…) in the name of Jesus Christ should be ashamed of themselves”, warned the vice-president and wife of the president, Rosario Murillo, in April of this year.

In March, the Vatican representative in Nicaragua, the Pole Waldemar Sommertag, was expelled from the country, a decision that the Holy See considered “incomprehensible”.

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