Carlota, a 68 year old retired woman who attends mass every Sunday and actively participates in the activities of her parish, was shocked when she learned that the bishop of Matagalpa, Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, had been sentenced to 26 years and four months in prison.
"They say the bishop didn't want to leave with the other prisoners. I would have wanted him to leave, to be free, spreading his message every Sunday. What they are doing to him is a crime. He is in prison for being a pastor, for being a messenger of God. He is not a criminal," Carlota lamented.
On Thursday, February 9, President Daniel Ortega said he had included clergy in the list of 222 persons exiled to the United States, but that the Catholic hierarchy rejected the offer, something the dictator described as an act of "arrogance".
The judgment against Álvarez, who was also stripped of his nationality, is the conclusion of a process plagued by "criminal actions", according to the criteria of legal sources.
Judge Nadia Tardencilla Rodríguez sentenced Álvarez for the alleged crimes of "conspiracy" and "propagation of fake news", less than 24 hours after Ortega publicly attacked Álvarez in the context of the expulsion of political prisoners.
Carlota resented the judge's remarks and said that this case is one of the bishop being a martyr. He has received the support of various Episcopal Conferences around the world, as well as public expressions of "concern" by Pope Francis from the Vatican.
"I want to see him free, but I understand that as a priest he is ready to give his body to the cause of God. He is sacrificing himself for all of us, for his message of love and freedom. He has not committed any crime the Government says", Carlota affirmed.
The vicious attacks against Álvarez also provoked indignation among government employees, even though they had to publicly participate in a colorful march on Saturday, February 11 to express support for Ortega.
A self-delusionary march for Ortega
In the images published on pro-government media, Sandinista sympathizers can be seen with balloons in the shape of airplanes, to represent the journey of the expelled prisoners. Their signs said that the El Chipote jail was now breathing "in peace".
Government employees consulted by CONFIDENCIAL say that the presidential couple is deluding itself. Francisco, a veteran public servant, affirmed that everyone is clear that this is all a lie.
Francisco was going about his normal business when he was surprised by the news of the expulsion and banishment of the political prisoners. Contrary to the official version that Ortega did it for national "dignity", Francisco believes it was a response to the pressures of the United States, which has sanctioned members of the regime, including Vice President Rosario Murillo and her children.
"Not even the most fanatical supporters expected it [the expulsion of the political prisoners]. So during Saturday's activity, what victory were they celebrating? In fact it was all a failure because now they're in even worse shape because of the situation with the bishop. What they did is barbaric and nobody is fooled," added Francisco.
"FSLN members don't say much about the 94 [the new list of stateless persons disclosed by the Public Prosecutor's Office on February 15, 2023]. They limit themselves to saying they are traitors to the homeland, and to supporting the decision of Ortega's judges. But they know it's unfair to apply these measures just for thinking differently", stressed Francisco.
Avilés' support of Ortega
Marianela, 34, works in one of the businesses linked to the Nicaraguan Army. She is aware that the highest levels of the military are aligned in favor of the Ortega regime, which was evident when she saw General Julio César Avilés on the main stage, accompanying Ortega.
In that late afternoon appearance on February 9, Ortega was accompanied by his repressive apparatus just after the expulsion had been implemented. The judicial authorities declared the political prisoners "traitors to the homeland", and announced their banishment and stripping of their "nationality".
"My coworkers and I were excited to see how the prisoners were happy, hugging each other because they were free. We all knew that they were being treated badly in prison, that they were tortured, that they were not allowed to see their children or family members," Marianela reacted.
Those family members were the ones who documented the abuses: poor food, sleep deprivation, constant interrogations in judicial proceedings, devoid of due process guarantees such as the right to defense, exposing the regime nationally and internationally.
Marianela also affirms that the Ortega and Murillo regime came out of the situation "losing". "It is evident that those in favor of the government have lost, but they want to act like they're strong," she added.
Marianela's contradictory emotions of happiness and helplessness at the release and banishment of the 222 political prisoners were transformed into astonishment at the announcement by the Public Prosecutor's Office of declaring 94 Nicaraguans stateless and de facto convicting them as "traitors to the homeland".
Marianela, who works on legal issues, is unequivocal in pointing out how arbitrary the measures against these 94 Nicaraguans are. "Anyone who knows the law knows that what they are doing has no legal basis or rationale. It seems unbelievable to me to see judges and magistrates lending themselves to this. What I think is that they are doing it to encourage their bases, to appear strong, because they were really defeated with the release of the political prisoners," she said.
Roberto: “The accusations are false and everything is political."
Roberto, 35, is a computer engineer in the private sector and is also a Catholic. He watched as the parish priest of his church, a non-Nicaraguan, decided to leave the country as the regime's repression against Catholicism escalated, with Álvarez being just the most visible example.
As a Catholic and a professional, Roberto says he can foresee what the future might hold because of the adverse situation of Monsignor Álvarez. "What the Government doesn't know is that in the end the Church will prevail, despite everything it's doing against the Church. Monsignor Álvarez is a pastor and he decided to sacrifice himself for the Christian cause. Everyone here in Nicaragua knows that these are false accusations against Monsignor Álvarez, and that everything is political. Nobody believes anymore what the president says about the accusations against the priests," he said.
The international attorney Jared Genser, a specialist in human rights, described Álvarez's case as a "deviation of justice in Nicaragua" and a "violation of international law". Hours earlier it was learned from Catholic Church sources that the bishop is in a maximum security cell in La Modelo prison, located in Tipitapa, just north of Managua.
According to a study by lawyer Martha Patricia Molina, between April 2018 and October 2022, the Catholic Church was the target of 396 attacks, with a considerable increase in 2022, with 127 between January and October. These included the imprisonment of priests, the banishment of others and the surveillance to which parishes and clergy were being subjected.
The list of grievances is long: radio stations closed, expulsions of clergy like the Apostolic Nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw in March 2022, as well as the 18 nuns of the order of Mother Teresa of Calcutta in July, and the prohibition of religious celebrations.
The police have even stopped religious activities while they were happening, turning back parishioners when they had already gone out into the streets, or at the doors of the parishes when they were about to do so.
Ortega has used hate speech against clergy. He has accused them of participating in a coup d'état in 2018, when priests came out in defense of the citizens massacred by the State.
Álvarez himself is known for his preaching of the gospel, his defense of fundamental rights and his denunciations of abuses of power. The police began to harass him in Managua at the end of May 2022, and finally on August 4, 2022 officers surrounded him in the Curia of Matagalpa to prevent him from moving around.
Álvarez remained under siege for 15 days. He prayed, surrounded by priests, seminarians, deacons and lay people, who were then violently taken to the El Chipote jail when police troops stormed the curia on August 19, 2022. Those same clergy were on the February 9th list of expelled and banished prisoners.
"It was sad to see those photos of Monsignor Álvarez in court. Later, when I learned he had been sentenced to 26 years in prison, I couldn't believe it. It seemed like a lie. But he is going to get out of all this soon. His sacrifice is an example of faith for everyone, that in the end, light will overcome darkness", reflected Roberto.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.