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Dictatorship returns Monsignor Rolando Álvarez to La Modelo Prison

Negotiations fail between the Vatican, the Government and the Episcopal Conference to obtain the release of the bishop of Matagalpa, who refuses exile

Monsignor Rolando Alvarez

Monsignor Rolando Álvarez during the visit to the La Modelo prison system.

Redacción Confidencial

6 de julio 2023


The bishop of Matagalpa and apostolic administrator of the diocese of Estelí, Monsignor Rolando José Álvarez, who had been released from La Modelo prison earlier this week as part of a negotiation between the Vatican, the Government and the Episcopal Conference, was returned to his maximum security cell this Wednesday morning, July 5, when no agreement was reached for his definitive release.

Church and diplomatic sources revealed to CONFIDENCIAL that the Vatican sent a diplomatic representative of its Secretariat of Foreign Relations to Managua, to negotiate with the Government of Nicaragua the release and exile of Monsignor Rolando Álvarez.

However, the bishop did not accept the terms imposed for his exile. A source linked to the Church recalled that since August 2022, when the regime of Daniel Ortega imposed a police siege on the curia of Matagalpa, Monsignor Rolando Alvarez has refused to accept the option of banishment or exile that the regime intends to impose on him, and demands his unconditional freedom and that of all the imprisoned priests. For the same principled reason, he refused to accept the banishment that the regime imposed on 221 other political prisoners, among them several priests, on February 9.

"The only circumstance in which Monsignor Alvarez would accept to go into exile is if Pope Francis asks or orders him to do so, and that did not happen before, nor has it happened in the talks they held this week with a diplomatic representative of the Vatican," the source explained.

In declarations to some media, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes described the news of the release of Monsignor Rolando Alvarez as "pure speculation" and said that "he remains in La Modelo prison", where the Archbishop has had no contact with the bishop, although members of his family have had contact with him.

Meanwhile, the Ortega regime keeps three priests at La Modelo prison: Leonardo Urbina (detained in Boaco), Manuel García (detained in Nandaime) both convicted for alleged common crimes, and the priest Jaime Montesinos, accused of "undermining national sovereignty".

Two other priests, Pastor Rodríguez and Leonardo Guevara, both associated with Caritas Estelí, are being held in a "seminary for prison", while they are subject to a financial investigation for alleged money laundering, through which the regime is freezing all the bank accounts of the Catholic Church.

Monsignor Alvarez also demanded the release of all imprisoned priests and the unblocking of all the accounts of the dioceses of the Catholic Church, requests that were rejected by the Nicaraguan Government.

His imprisonment

Monsignor Alvarez was arrested and transferred to Managua in the early morning of August 19, 2022, after two weeks under house arrest in the Episcopal Curia of Matagalpa.

In the police operation four priests, two seminarians and a cameraman who accompanied him were also transferred. The priest was transferred to Managua under house arrest and the others were locked up in the Judicial Assistance Directorate, known as El Chipote.

During his imprisonment, the Ortega dictatorship showed the bishop publicly only twice. The first was in December 2022 when the priest was transferred to the courts of the Criminal District Hearings of Managua where he was accused of conspiracy to commit undermining national integrity and propagation of false news to the detriment of the State and Nicaraguan society.

The second occasion was on March 25, 2023, when the dictatorship published, through its media, a series of photographs and videos of a meeting between the bishop and two of his siblings. The images revealed the bishop to be visibly thin, pale and gray-haired. Since then, his health and physical condition are not known.


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Sentenced to 26 years in prison 

Monsignor Alvarez is the first bishop in Nicaragua to become a political prisoner. For his prophetic voice, he was persecuted since before his arrest. In May 2022 he had to take refuge in Managua after the police raided his sister's house. In retaliation, they also closed the television and radio media of the two dioceses he administered. 

On February 10, 2023, the justice system of the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo finally sentenced him to 26 years and four months in prison in an express trial held one day after the prelate refused to board a plane that would take him to the United States along with 222 other political prisoners who were exiled. That same day he was also denationalized. 

Since then, the bishop was transferred to the Jorge Navarro National Penitentiary System, better known as “La Modelo,” where he remained in a maximum security cell known as “El Infiernillo,” which according to some political prisoners, the cell is about two and a half meters long by two meters wide, unhealthy and without ventilation.  

There “the heat provokes greater anxiety, desperation, the desire to run away,” said former political prisoner Yubrank Suazo, who has been there on two occasions. 

The imprisonment of the bishop has provoked waves of solidarity at the international level. The last one was promoted by the European Parliament, which asked for “proof that Bishop Rolando Alvarez is alive.” The MEPs also reiterated “their call for his immediate and unconditional release and that of all political prisoners.”

Last March, Daniel Ortega's regime broke off relations with the Vatican hours after Pope Francis described it in an interview granted to Infobae as a “Hitlerian dictatorship” and considered - “with much respect” - that the leader suffers from “a mental imbalance.” At the same time, he praised Bishop Alvarez, of whom he assured: “He wanted to give his testimony and did not accept exile.”

Persecution of the Church

After the arrest of Bishop Alvarez, the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega increased the repression against the Catholic Church through prohibitions of religious activities, freezing of bank accounts, the siege in parishes, and the expulsion of at least 84 religious, including priests and nuns, including the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Managua, Monsignor Silvio José Báez.

According to monitoring carried out by exiled Nicaraguan researcher Martha Patricia Molina, it is estimated that 44 religious and 40 nuns have left the country in the last five years, but with greater emphasis, between 2022 and the present.

The last ones to be added were the nuns of the Poor Fraternity of Jesus Christ, of Brazilian origin, who were expelled from Nicaragua last Sunday, July 2.

On June 28, 2023, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) issued a resolution ordering the Ortega Murillo dictatorship to release the bishop. This resolution is in addition to others that the IACHR Court has issued for months in favor of dozens of people considered political prisoners in Nicaragua, the last of them in January 2023, without being complied with by the Ortega government.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.


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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.