Why persecuted Nicaragua bishop turned down the chance to leave the country

Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. | Credit: Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Bishop Rolando Álvarez of the Diocese of Matagalpa refused to leave Nicaragua along with the 222 political prisoners — including several priests and seminarians — who were deported by the Daniel Ortega dictatorship on 9th February. 

The prisoners arrived in Washington, D.C., following a ruling by the Managua Court of Appeals, which stated that “those sentenced who, for different crimes, violated the legal and constitutional order, attacking the State of Nicaragua and Nicaraguan society, harming the supreme interest of the nation” are deported.

The court explained that the deportation was carried out “to protect peace, national security, public order, health, public morals, [and] the rights and freedoms of third parties.”

In a speech on 9th February, accompanied by his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, and other government officials, Ortega explained what happened with Álvarez, whom he called “that character.”

“This is not bartering,” the dictator said. “It’s a matter of principles, of dignity. And what it does is confirm that [the political prisoners] are returning to a country that, its ruler, not the American people, has used them to sow terror, death, and destruction here in Nicaragua.”

Ortega said that Álvarez was taken to the airport, and before reaching the plane, “he starts saying that he’s not leaving, that he would first have to talk to the bishops, meet with the bishops, and he demands a meeting with the bishops. Which is absurd.”

Ortega said that what this means then is that the ruling by the Court of Appeals is a “decision of the Nicaraguan State that he (Álvarez) does not abide by.”

According to the dictator, the bishop of Matagalpa asked that they call “all the priests, because he would have to talk to them, for them to get off the plane so they could talk to him. And for the bishops to also come to speak with him.”

Given the refusal of the prelate to get on the plane, Ortega said that they couldn’t force him.

“We couldn’t because they didn’t allow that. In the agreement, the U.S. authorities did not allow using force on anyone who didn’t want to go to the United States. They could not be forced to get on,” the dictator said.

Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa since April 2011, was arrested in the middle of the night by the Ortega dictatorship in August 2022 and held under house arrest in Managua shortly thereafter.

The prelate is scheduled to go on trial on Feb. 15 for “conspiracy” and for spreading “fake news” against the regime. Martha Patricia Molina, a Nicaraguan researcher and lawyer, told EWTN News that the bishop could be sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners posted on Twitter a list of 38 prisoners who were not among those deported on Thursday.

On the list are the priests Manuel Salvador García Rodríguez, 57, pastor of Jesus the Nazarene Church in the Diocese of Granada, sentenced to two years in prison for the crime of threatening five people with a weapon; and Monsignor José Leonardo Urbina Rodríguez, 51, from the same diocese, sentenced to 30 years in prison for allegedly abusing a minor under 14 years of age.

Other priests who were deported are Oscar Benavidez Dávila, 50, pastor of Holy Spirit parish in Molokukú; Ramiro Reynaldo Tijerino Chávez, 50, rector of the John Paul II University; Sadiel Antonio Eugarrios Cano, 35, former vicar of the Matagalpa cathedral; and José Luis Díaz Cruz, 33, current vicar of the Matagalpa cathedral.

Also deported were Deacon Raúl Antonio Vega González, 27; seminarians Darvin Esteylin Leiva Mendoza, 19, and Melkin Antonio Centeno Sequeira, 23; and photographer Sergio José Cárdenas Flores, 32.

Benavidez was sentenced on 4th February to 10 years in prison, while the aforementioned others were sentenced on 6th February to 10 years in prison with an additional 800-day monetary fine based on a percentage of their daily income. They were all accused of conspiracy and spreading fake news.

According to the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, at least 40 political prisoners were incarcerated in the El Chipote prison, notorious for torturing opponents of the regime, and are “high-profile” opponents, including university students who were prominent in the 2018 anti-government protests.

The United States government has granted the deportees a humanitarian permit to live and work in the country.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, José Manuel Albares, told Agence France Presse (AFP) that his government will offer Spanish nationality to the deportees.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Source: CNA