Pope Francis has appealed for prayers for Nicaragua’s imprisoned Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez and urged political leaders to open their hearts to the search for peace.
Bishop Álvarez was sentenced without trial last Friday to 26 years’ imprisonment for “conspiracy, spreading fake news, obstructing and disobeying the authorities” and stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship.
He was sentenced after he refused to accept expulsion to the United States.
A further 222 opponents of President Daniel Ortega were freed and deported to Washington DC in the US, including five priests, a deacon and two seminarians condemned to ten years’ imprisonment on charges of conspiring against the government. They were welcomed by the US authorities and will be allowed to stay for two years.
The Pope spoke of his concern for Bishop Álvarez, “whom I love so much”.
US representatives said the United States had had no role in the operation and that it had been entirely a decision of the Nicaraguan government.
In order to deport the group, the Nicaraguan government summoned an emergency meeting of congress to amend the constitution to allow “traitors to the fatherland” to be deprived of their citizenship.
Among those deported was one of the leaders of the 1979 Sandinista revolution, Dora María Telles, known as Comandante 2, “Commander No 2”.
Other deportees are members of the Chamorro family, including Cristina Chamorro, who attempted to stand against Ortega in 2021 but was arrested and imprisoned, and Pedro Holman Chamorro, editor of the newspaper La Prensa whose premises were seized by the government. The paper now produces a digital edition from outside the country.
Álvarez will serve his sentence in the La Modelo prison, with common criminals, not in El Chipote, where political prisoners are normally held.
In a national broadcast Ortega ridiculed the bishop: “This Álvarez character is an example of arrogance. He thinks he’s the head of the church in Nicaragua, the leader of the church in Nicaragua, and must be thinking he'll have the Pope’s job.”
In the same broadcast, Ortega said that the deportation was the idea of his wife and vice-president, Rosario Murillo, and that she had telephoned the US ambassador, Kevin Sullivan, who was about to travel to Washington, and then “everything moved at dizzying speed”.
The Episcopal Council of Latin America, as well as the bishops of Chile and Spain, have condemned the violation of human rights in Nicaragua while at the same time denouncing the imprisonment of Bishop Álvarez and the deportations.