Ortega’s government has in recent years detained, imprisoned, and likely tortured numerous Catholic leaders, including at least one bishop and several priests. His government has also taken action to repress Catholic radio and television stations, and driven Catholic religious orders, including the Missionaries of Charity, from the country.
Ortega, who leads Nicaragua’s socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front party, has governed Nicaragua continuously since 2007 along with his wife, Rosario Murillo, who is now the vice president. The regime has variously been accused of corruption, voter fraud, imprisoning critical dissenters and journalists, and committing violent human rights abuses against the people of Nicaragua.
Álvarez’s sentence came one day after the bishop refused to get on the plane with the other released political prisoners, including four priests, who were flown to the U.S. in an agreement with the State Department.
Ortega said in a televised speech that Álvarez was in the line to board the plane when he suddenly decided not to get on and was taken to Modelo prison.
Álvarez had been under house arrest since August 2022. Riot police prevented the bishop — along with priests, seminarians, and a layman — from leaving the chancery in Matagalpa from Aug. 4 to Aug. 19. At that point, the police of the Nicaraguan dictatorship abducted Álvarez in the middle of the night and took him to Managua, the country’s capital.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, praised Álvarez as a “Christ-like figure with a servant’s heart” for deciding to stay to accompany those who are suffering under the Ortega regime.
Smith, who serves as the chair of the Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, said: “We must continue to work to combat the brutal Ortega regime and free the remaining prisoners — including courageous Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who refuses to abandon his flock.”
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.