The images of Nicaraguan bishop Rolando Álvarez praying on his knees in the street while being harassed by dozens of police officers shocked the world.
More than a year after the event, the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega still has Álvarez in prison. It is a cruel reprisal, revenge for the bishop’s refusal to accept banishment.
Álvarez was sentenced without trial to 26 years in prison, one day after he refused to board the plane in which the dictatorship banished 222 political prisoners to the United States last Feb. 9. He was accused without evidence of “treason” for defending human rights and advocating for justice. The regime hides the state of his health in his maximum security cell in Managua.
Bishop Álvarez symbolizes a light of dignity, an example of courage, conviction and coherence that keeps hope alive in a country silently resisting under repression and a de facto police state. He also represents a moral reserve of the Catholic Church, which he exemplifies through his witness.
It’s no coincidence that eight former presidents of Costa Rica, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias, have joined the proposal to nominate Álvarez and Bishop Silvio José Báez, exiled in the U.S., for the Nobel Peace Prize 2024, in a letter addressed to the president of the Nobel Committee.
Both bishops were illegally stripped of their nationality by the dictatorship for their defense of peace and justice. They embody the pain of imprisonment suffered by political prisoners and the uprooting of exile experienced by hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans, like many others in the world.
Although there have been attempts at negotiation between the Vatican, the Nicaraguan bishops’ conference and the government, Ortega refuses to release Alvarez unless he agrees to exile. The bishop refuses and demands his freedom to serve his flock inside Nicaragua.
The only reason the bishop would accept exile would be in obedience to a request from Pope Francis, who has not asked him to do so. On the contrary, in an interview with the Argentinean media Infobae in March, the Pope said: “We have a bishop who is a prisoner, a very serious man, very capable. He wanted to give his testimony and did not accept exile.”
On that occasion, the pope was conclusive and called the Nicaraguan regime a “guarangua” dictatorship, a popular Argentinian term used to refer to something coarse and vulgar.
The Ortega regime escalated the tone of its hate speech against the Church and has taken increasingly severe repressive measures. The dictatorship accused the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua of “money laundering” and froze all its bank accounts, but never presented any evidence.
It has imprisoned and banished priests, expelled religious congregations from the country and confiscated their property, including universities. Religious celebrations in the streets have also been prohibited.
The Nicaraguan regime first criminalized the right to civic protest and elections; then they persecuted independent journalism and civil society, and now they are criminalizing the pastoral, social and humanitarian work of the Church.
This crusade reveals the Sandinista dictatorship’s fear of a prophetic voice that denounces injustice, proclaims the truth and announces the hope that lies in the Nicaraguan people’s thirst for freedom.
These acts of revenge evince the state of extreme moral degradation of the regime, which stands accused by international human rights organizations of crimes against humanity.
Religious persecution also represents contempt for the people themselves, their faith and their values.
Nominating the Nicaraguan bishops for the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize would help to focus the eyes of the world on a country in need of greater international attention. Nicaragua faces a serious human rights crisis, where there are no civil liberties or rule of law.
This imprisoned bishop represents an imprisoned country. International recognition of his work for peace in Nicaragua would mean an important gesture of solidarity, accompanied by the demand for his freedom to return to his episcopal see in the cities of Matagalpa and Estelí, and continue with his pastoral work.
BY ELMER RIVAS, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR – 09/06/23 9:00 AM ET / Thehill
Elmer Rivas is a journalist at Confidencial Nicaragua and general producer of the program “Esta Semana.” He is also producer of the political satire segment Fuera de Broma.