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Nicaragua cracks down on Catholic Church

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After nearly four months of house arrest, Bishop Rolando Alvarez sat alone in a Nicaraguan court in a blue shirt instead of clerical attire and skinny clothes.

His public appearance last week was his first public appearance since he was arrested during a raid on his parish headquarters in Matagalpa in August.

The detention of Nicaragua’s most outspoken prelate, whose trial begins in January, has sent an unmistakable message to others who oppose the regime of President Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo.

Lawyer Yader Morazan, who fled Nicaragua in 2018, said: “He is very outspoken and one of the few priests who is not afraid to speak up. It can also instill fear in people,” he said.

Businesses were silenced after expressing support for anti-government protesters in 2018. The leader of his Cosep, a major economic organization, was imprisoned. The regime has closed more than 3,000 of her NGOs and shut down 54 news outlets, according to Confidential, a Nicaraguan newspaper that operates out of neighboring Costa Rica.

Now, while supporting the families of political prisoners, it is stepping up its persecution of Ortega’s protesters and the Catholic Church, which has criticized his authoritarian excesses.

Confidential Director Carlos Chamorro said, “This is the last remaining civic space in the country, a space for freedom of conscience, freedom of preaching, freedom of religion and even freedom of the church.” The aim is to close the

Nicaraguans deported to Costa Rica have signs that read: #SOSNicaragua during a protest against the detention of Bishop Alvarez in San Jose, Costa Rica, in August.” © Mayela Lopez/Reuters

Persecution of Alvarez and the Church ensues as Ortega and Murillo consolidate their power and imprison their opponents. The ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front swept all 153 municipalities last month in what the US called a “pantomime” election.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said the regime continued to hold 225 political prisoners, including “relatives of detained political opponents who allegedly forced them to surrender.” It has said. said last week.

“We are becoming de facto North Korea in Central America,” said Titian Breda, a Central America analyst at the International Crisis Group. “It’s a country that Ortega believes the only way to maintain control of the state and stay in power is to completely suppress the voices of the least dissident.”

Ortega and Murillo have regularly denounced the bishop as a “terrorist” and a “couper”. According to the priest, police have blocked processions on public holidays, and police officers regularly patrol outside churches to make threats.

The Charity Missionaries, founded by Mother Teresa, left in July after losing registration. Vatican ambassador Archbishop Valdemar Sommertag was exiled in March.

“The last remaining institution of hope was the church,” said the deposed priest, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

The church has had a tumultuous relationship with Ortega since he first took office in 1979 when the Sandinistas ousted Anastasio Somoza. Analysts say Ortega lost his power in 1990, but was reinstated in 2007, demonstrating himself to be a proper Catholic and building close ties with the church hierarchy.

Ortega and Murillo married in a Catholic ceremony in 2005. 2006 strict abortion lawpassed two weeks before the elections he won, thus barring proceedings in all circumstances.

“[The bishops] I was so distracted by the Ortigas’ efforts to police abortion that I didn’t understand the rest,” said Ryan Berg, director of the Americas program at the Institute for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank.

“Ortega uses the Catholic Church as a sort of useful vehicle when necessary, and like a carpet when responsibility has to be placed somewhere else.”

After protests erupted over proposed social security reforms in 2018, the church has become an outspoken Ortega critic.

Priests have opened the parish to wounded protesters being pursued by police and paramilitaries. , later withdrawn, claiming malice on the part of the government.

Pope Francis made lukewarm remarks about Nicaragua. He expressed concern and called for dialogue after Alvarez’s arrest in August. That doesn’t mean I approve or disapprove of everything the government is doing. ”

Dialogue between the government and protesters has improved conditions for prisoners held at El Chipote Prison outside the capital, Managua, as they seek to find a political solution to the 2018 protests, analysts said. It is said that it has changed to simply asking to do.

Daniel Ortega first came to power in Nicaragua in 1979 when the Sandinistas overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza © POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Father Edwin Román, a Nicaraguan priest in exile in Miami, said, “The dialogue does not make sense with a dictatorship because it imprisons the participants of the first dialogue.

“I don’t think the Catholic Church will serve another circus when bishops and priests are in jail.”

The Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference has remained silent on Alvarez’s arrest. It did not respond to requests for comment.

“The bishops chose silence and prayer and did not mention the matter so as not to be persecuted,” said the deposed priest.

“This is not often seen in depressed people… asking that something be done and the bishop defended.”

The deposed priest said he knew 11 imprisoned priests and two seminarians, including Alvarez. An unknown number have fled or been exiled. A government spokesperson, Murillo, did not accept an interview request, but said in a short statement:

Alvarez repeatedly refused to flee the country before being arrested.

“Bishop Rolando Alvarez prefers to stay in Nicaragua, albeit as a prisoner, and not to go freely to another country,” said José Antonio Canales, Bishop of Danri, Honduras, who knows Alvarez. “He is a very brave and determined person.”

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