Mulukuku is a remote town located in the very center of Nicaragua, considered part of the country’s Autonomous North Caribbean region. The population of about 73,000 awoke on August 15 to find their town occupied by a large riot squad contingent. Twelve hours earlier, the National Police, directed by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, had detained Father Oscar Danilo Benavidez, the town’s priest and the third Catholic priest the regime has jailed since June.
Benavidez was detained by the police at 5:50 pm on August 14, two hours after the Sunday Mass he officiated in the Inmaculada Concepcion chapel. About two blocks from the site, he was stopped in his pick-up truck and transferred “without violence” to a police patrol car, according to an anonymous witness of the police operation.
“Since the Police truck is a double-cabin vehicle, they stationed an official on each side of Benavidez. Some 10 or 12 police were on the pickup. They merely passed by the Mulukuku police station and left for Managua in the police vehicle,” the witness described.
The observer, who had just left work, was surprised to see them detain a religious figure he considers “charismatic and a very good person.” That same afternoon, following the priest’s detention, two patrol cars full of armed officials circulated in the area, in order to instill more fear in the population.
After Benevidez’ detention, riot squad troops spread out along the town’s key points – the exit from the parish, the bridge and the police station – to avoid any demonstrations of discontent. A vehicle from the Directorate of Judicial Assistance – the Managua El Chipote jail complex – drove around the area, while the consternated population asked each other where they’d taken the religious figure. The only reply they received from officials at that moment was, “He’s in Managua”, without clarifying if that meant the holding cells known as “El Chipote.”
Father Benavidez is the third Catholic leader to be jailed in recent months. The first, Father Manuel Garcia of Nandaime, is accused of supposedly assaulting a woman. Last July, police also detained Monsignor Leonardo Urbina, who is accused of rape. In both cases, there have been trials characterized by a lack of due process, according to independent legal experts.
Part of the Matagalpa diocese
Father Oscar Benavidez was new in Mulukuku. He assumed responsibilities in the parish on May 25. The Mulukuku church is part of the Siuna dioceses, but the priest came from Matagalpa, where in 2016 he served as consultant to the Matagalpa Diocese Youth Pastoral. “The Father speaks the truth, asks for our prayers for peace in Nicaragua and for Monsignor Rolando Alvarez,” stated the parishioner who witnessed Benavidez’ detention.
The Matagalpa diocese is currently under active persecution from the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship. The bishop of this dioceses, Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, has been held prisoner in the city’s Curia since August 4th. The Police have justified this, saying that they’ve opened an investigation against the Bishop, accusing him of “organizing violent groups” and “promoting hate”.
The current escalation in the persecution against the Catholic Church has included the detention of three priests, the police siege of others in Managua and Sebaco, the expulsion of the nuns from the order of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the closure of seven radio stations belonging to the Matagalpa Dioceses, and last weekend – the prohibition of a procession for the Virgin of Fatima in the Managua archdiocese.
Confidencial attempted to communicate by cellphone with Suina’s bishop, Monsignor Isidoro Mora, to ask about the detention of the Mulukuku parish priest, but three attempts to reach the Bishop proved unsuccessful.
On August 7, the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, which Mora belongs to, expressed their solidarity with Monsignor Alvarez, and stated that the situation the religious leader was facing touched their hearts “as Bishops and as part of the Nicaraguan Church.”
Message of his last sermon
Although there’s no formal registry in the Espiritu Santo parish regarding the contents of Father Benavidez’ homily on August 14, a number of worshipers recalled the sermon.
“Carmen” stated that his message on the day of his detention was: “You can’t silence the truth.” “He said, ‘We should pray for the situation in Nicaragua, for Monsignor Alvarez.’ He said we shouldn’t be afraid. Maybe that bothered them [the government]. No one thought there might be an infiltrator there, as it seems there was,” Carmen commented.
According to Church sources, Father Oscar Danilo Benavidez is 45, and originally from San Isidro, a town in the department of Matagalpa. His family originally considered themselves Sandinistas, and the priest received a scholarship to study agricultural engineering in Cuba. His closest friends recall with admiration his history of overcoming the poverty his family experienced during his childhood.
As an adult, he worked with the Catholic Church in the ‘’la Chispa” neighborhood of San Pedro del Norte, then in Mulukuku. Following the crisis of regime repression that followed the 2018 uprising, the priest noted that the worshippers were fearful of attending Mass and had begun to resign from the different Pastoral responsibilities he oversaw. “He was very courageous and denounced the injustices,” stated one of his acquaintances.