The Nicaraguan Police, under the direct orders of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, raided the Episcopal Curia of Matagalpa early Friday and kidnapped Bishop Rolando Jose Alvarez and seven of the eight collaborators of the religious leader who had remained locked up with him. For two weeks these nine citizens were under police siege in the Catholic Church residence and offices.
In a message through its Facebook page, at 3:20 in the morning, the Matagalpa diocese announced: “Urgent! Right now the National Police have entered Episcopal Curia of our Diocese of Matagalpa!”
The Police reportedly have Oscar Escoto, pastor of the Santa Maria de Guadalupe church in Matagalpa, at the episcopal curia, which remains occupied.
In addition to Monsignor Alvarez, bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa, the priests Jose Luis Diaz and Sadiel Eugarrios, first and second vicar of the Matagalpa cathedral, were among the arrested. Likewise, Ramiro Tijerino, rector of the John Paul II University and in charge of the San Juan Bautista parish; and Raul Gonzalez. The seminarians Darvin Leyva and Melkin Sequeira and the cameraman Sergio Cardenas were also taken into custody.
Religious sources confirmed that Alvarez was taken away in a vehicle separated from the others. The operation was led by Matagalpa Police Chief Sergio Gutierrez, under the command of Ramon Avellan, deputy director of the National Police and one of Ortega’s most faithful officials. Avellan is accused of committing crimes against humanity in the protests of 2018, when more than 300 people were killed according to reports from national and international human rights organizations.
Fifteen days hostage
Since August 4th, the regime’s Police imposed a police siege on Monsignor Alvarez, preventing him from leaving the curia building to carry out his pastoral activities. Earlier that day, the bishop, recognized for his prophetic and critical voice of the regime, left the curia and kneeling with the Blessed Sacrament in his hands prayed for the end of the police siege.
The government’s response appeared on Friday August 5th. In a press release, the National Police reported that the bishop was under house arrest and is being investigated for allegedly “organizing violent groups” and “carrying out acts of hate.” “Other people under investigation will remain in their homes,” said the Police, already accused of committing multiple human rights violations.
At first, a total of twelve citizens were detained in the curia, but the Police allowed the release of three laymen: the choristers Henry Corvera and Sujin Membreño; and cameraman Flavio Castro. Membreño left on August 8, while Corvera and Castro did so on the 16th.
Corvera was then deported to El Salvador, where he is from. The young man had been living with his family in Matagalpa for several years. Both his departure from the curia and his deportation were under a mantle of silence. The only thing that is known is that the police visited his family before they allowed him to leave the building.
“A sin of omission”
The priest Edwing Roman, pastor of the San Miguel Church in Masaya, a victim of the siege since 2018 and currently in exile, lamented on his Twitter account the kidnapping of the bishop and the priests who accompanied him in the curia. Roman publicly demanded an end to the silence and encouraged “those who should speak to show their faces”, recalling that “omission is a sin.”
The auxiliary bishop of Managua, Monsignor Silvio Jose Baez, in exile since 2019, by order of the Pope to protect his life, condemned the kidnapping of Monsignor Alvarez. He demanded that they reveal his whereabouts, respect his dignity and release him. “Once again the dictatorship surpasses its own evil and diabolical spirit”, he expressed on his Twitter account.
The Ortega regime prosecutes three priests in the last two months: in June Manuel Salvador García from Nandaime in June, Monsignor Leonardo Urbina in Boaco on July 13, and Oscar Danilo Benavidez in Mulukuku on August 14th. Benavides belongs to the Diocese of Siuna, but he also comes from Matagalpa where he worked as an advisor to youth ministry groups until 2016.
Monsignor Silvio Baez published a tweet in which he condemned Alvarez’s “nighttime kidnapping”. “Those who know, say where my brother bishop is! May his kidnappers respect his dignity and release him!”
In his homily on Sunday August 14 in Miami, Baez pointed out that “this business of eliminating the prophets is something very old. It is always practiced by unjust, intolerant, and violent systems.” The Catholic leader is exiled due to persecution by the regime.
The increasing repression against the Catholic Church included the closure of seven radio stations in Matagalpa on August 1, the desecration of the Sebaco parish and the closure on June 29 of the Catholic cable TV channel as part of an escalation that seeks to silence priests and bishops. Meanwhile, the Ortega-Murillo regime has elevated its hate speech by calling the priests and bishops “devils in cassocks”, and “coup plotters”.
Alvarez is recognized for his work with the peasantry, his charisma, and his religious ethic. In his last tweet, he wrote that the regime should worry about “wearing their party dress in the Kingdom of God.”
Tension in Ciudad Darío
The 28-parish Diocese of Matagalpa is now the epicenter of an unprecedented escalation of attacks against the Catholic Church. At least its eight parishes, circumscribed to Alvarez’s leadership, have reported some type of police harassment or their priests have been intimidated in the last two weeks.
Today, the bells tolled at dawn also in the parish of Santa Lucía, where residents of Ciudad Darío had mobilized to protect the priest Vicente Martínez, whom the Police came to look for on Tuesday, August 16 at 5:55 a.m. in the morning. The siege, including the presence of riot police, forced the vicar, Sebastian Lopez, to officiate mass from an improvised atrium in the patio of the Church grounds with the parishioners behind the perimeter fence, increasing tension in the town.
“#URGENTE #SOS At the sound of the bells of the Santa Lucía Parish church of Ciudad Darío, early this Friday morning, people came out to protect the safety of our priest, now with anguish after receiving the news of the Police raid of the Episcopal Curia of the Diocese of Matagalpa,” they wrote on the parish web page, while several photos reported the presence of citizens concerned about the fate of the religious figures.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times