Nicaragua announces the release of Mgr Rolando Álvarez and 18 imprisoned priests

Nicaragua announces the release of Mgr Rolando Álvarez and 18 priests, sent to the Vatican

Mgr Rolando Álvarez, imprisoned since August 2022 and sentenced to 26 years in prison by the government of Daniel Ortega, as well as another bishop, two seminarians and fifteen priests, were finally released by the Nicaraguan authorities. On January 14, all of them, with the exception of a priest who remained in Venezuela, were sent to Rome, where the Holy See warmly welcomed them.

The Nicaraguan government announced on January 14 that it had released and exiled two bishops, 15 priests, and two seminarians to the Vatican. Those released, with the exception of a priest who remained in Venezuela, were sent to Rome on the day of their release and were warmly welcomed by the Holy See, reports Vatican News.

Among the released religious, there are priests arrested at the end of December last by the government of President Daniel Ortega. Their detention followed their expression of solidarity with Mgr Rolando Álvarez, arrested in 2022.

Bishop Rolando Álvarez: a prominent political prisoner

Since his arrest in August 2022, Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Alvarez, a critical figure of President Daniel Ortega, was placed under house arrest. In February 2023, he was sentenced to 26 years in prison for “conspiracy and spreading false news”. He was also stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship, deprived of his civil rights for life and fined $1.

Refusing to go into exile in the United States with more than 200 other opponents released by the government, Alvarez, one of the most critical clergy in the country, preferred to return to prison.

Tension between the church and Ortega's government has grown over time

Daniel Ortega, who led Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, marked his return in 2007 with the support of Christian leaders, establishing alliances with Catholic and Protestant elites during the 2006 elections, according to Christian today. In return, conservative social policies, such as banning abortion, were adopted.

He then maintained his popularity over the next decade, spurring economic growth, collaborating with business leaders, and improving infrastructure and public services. Re-elected in 2011 and retaining power in contested elections in 2016, the drop in his popularity was unexpected in April 2018.

Cuts to social security benefits sparked massive protests, violently suppressed by his government. Its relations with the Church hardened when the country's clergy gave their support to the demonstrators, considered opponents of the regime. 

Criticism from Catholic leaders exacerbated tensions with the government, which saw the Church as a rival threatening its declining legitimacy. Attacks on clergy and Catholic institutions followed, forcing some clerics into exile. Those who remained are closely monitored, with priests supporting political prisoners risking arrest or violence.

According to the organization Open House, Christians in Nicaragua face intimidation, harassment and are seen as “agents of destabilization.” 

Salma El Monser

Image credit: Creative Commons / Wikimedia

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