Nicaragua Is Where Pope Francis Could Make a Difference

By Circles Robinson

HAVANA TIMES – A couple weeks ago Pope Francis returned to the Vatican from an eye-opening trip to Canada which made crystal clear the role of the Catholic Church in the genocide committed against Indigenous peoples in that country.  He was visibly shaken by the extent of the cruelty that included the deaths of thousands of children, a horror beyond belief. He used the word “genocide” not in Canada but upon returning home.

While touring Canada he offered his “apology” for the heinous crimes committed but said nothing about reparations within the means of the super wealthy institution/country he presides.  My thoughts were: talk is cheap, much cheaper than doing what’s right within realistic means to at least compensate the victims’ descendants in some fair way.

But that, as well as the many thousands of sexually abused children worldwide at the hands of Catholic priests, is not the main point of my writing today.  It’s totally different, and is about what is taking place right now in a little impoverished country in Central America, Nicaragua.

It involves terrible crimes and repression by a family dictatorship against an entire citizenry and that includes the Catholic Church priests and bishops who dare to speak out in favor of the defenseless population.

As I write, Bishop Rolando Alvarez, five other priests and five Church collaborators, are being held hostage by the Ortega family’s police in the city of Matagalpa. The main target is Alvarez as his criticisms have especially ticked off the vice dictator, Rosario Murillo, who is trying to push her own new religion whereby she is the all-powerful goddess.

The holding of the hostages is now in day 11. Their food supplies are reportedly low, and the huge police detachment won’t let citizens bring them food or medicines of any kind. Alvarez is threatened with prison for “endangering national security” from the very people who are destroying organized civil society as fast as they can.

Just knowing how Ortega and his wife happily support the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and its great leader Vladimir Putin, should be enough for most anyone to understand the ethics and empathy of their regime.

Yesterday, a column on the subject by journalist Andres Oppenheimer, the last independent journalist to interview Daniel Ortega back in the midst of the deadly crackdown against peaceful protestors in 2018, was published by the Miami Herald. 

A few days before, scores of Nicaraguan exile groups and supporters wrote a letter to the Pope asking him to intervene on behalf of the suffering victims of the repression and specifically in the case of Rolando Alvarez and those being held hostage with him.

Knowing how difficult it must be for the Pope to figure out the right thing to do regarding the horrendous wrong committed by his Institution in Canada against native peoples, a strong condemnation right now regarding Nicaragua, its 190+ political prisoners, and steadfast support for Bishop Alvarez and the country’s other jailed and persecuted priests should be a lot easier, and would at least show the real empathy many of his followers expect from him.

The following is the complete column by Andres Oppenheimer:

Why has Pope Francis remained silent?

Nicaragua’s dictator clamps down on the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church Curia, residence of Bishop Rolando Alvarez and the offices of different church programs, in Matagalpa, Nicaragua

By Andres Oppenheimer*

Pope Francis so far has remained mum about Nicaragua’s crackdown on radio stations run by the Catholic Church. It’s hard to decide what is more outrageous: Nicaragua’s dictator Daniel Ortega’s decision to shut down seven Roman Catholic Church radio stations and hold a bishop and his aides under house arrest, or Pope Francis’ total silence about these attacks on his own people.

Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, closed down the Roman Catholic radio stations on Aug. 1. They were run by the Diocese of Matagalpa, a northern Nicaragua department whose bishop, Rolando Alvarez, is a frequent critic of the ruling couple’s human-rights abuses.

Hours after the radio stations’ shutdown, Ortega’s police broke into the Divine Mercy parish in the Matagalpa town of Sebaco, which operated one of the stations. The parish broadcast the arrival and forced entry of the police live on Facebook.

Days later, heavily armed police stopped Alvarez and six Catholic priests who were accompanying him from leaving their residence. The bishop and the priests have been under house arrest ever since, the Catholic News Agency reported.

The Ortega-Murillo regime accuses Alvarez and his priests of trying to “organize violent groups” to destabilize the government. In March, the government expelled Papal Nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag from the country.

There’s little question that the Ortega regime is carrying out one of the harshest campaigns of repression against political dissent in the Western world.

Since the beginning of the year, the regime has closed down 1,406 non-government organizations, ranging from small theater production groups to internationally supported charities that ensure residents in Nicaragua’s poverty-ridden areas have access to health services and food, according to Nicaragua’s Confidencial magazine. The magazine, like virtually all other independent media, has been shut down in Nicaragua and publishes online from neighboring Costa Rica.

Ortega reelected himself in a fraudulent 2021 election, after outlawing major opposition parties and jailing the country’s seven leading presidential contenders. All of them remain in prison or under house arrest to this day.

In 2018, more than 300 Nicaraguans were killed and 2,000 injured by Ortega’s police and paramilitary troops during massive anti-government demonstrations. When I interviewed Ortega at his residence in Managua that year, he accused human-rights groups of making up the casualty figures, and assured me that the death toll had been only 195.

Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the publisher of Confidencial magazine, told me that Ortega is probably cracking down on the church because it is “the last remaining civil-society space that’s left in the country.” But what’s truly hard to explain is why Pope Francis has failed to condemn — or even mention — the Ortega regime’s attacks on his own church. The Vatican’s representative to the Organization read a statement Friday, more than a week after the shutdown of the radio stations, expressing “concern” about the events in Nicaragua. But there has been no word directly from the pope.

“Pope Francis’ silence about the ongoing persecution against the Nicaraguan Catholic Church is unacceptable,” Tamara Taraciuk, a Latin American expert with the Human Rights Watch advocacy group, told me. “Considering that Nicaragua’s own Catholic priests are risking their lives to denounce Ortega’s abuses, what is the pope waiting for to make a statement in their support?”

The pope’s failure to make a statement on Nicaragua comes after several startling omissions on his part in recent months. The pope has yet to visit Ukraine, the victim of the biggest foreign invasion in Europe since World War II. Yet, he found the time to make a six-day trip to Canada last month to apologize for the church’s abuses in the 19th century and in the 1970s.

The Nicaraguan tragedy has been buried in the headlines amid the Ukraine war, the China-U.S. tensions over Taiwan and the investigation into former President Trump’s possible stealing of top-secret White House documents. But what’s happening in Nicaragua should be denounced by democracy and human-rights defenders around the world — starting with Pope Francis.

*First published by El Nuevo Herald.

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