While the tension between the Catholic Church of Nicaragua and the government of President Daniel Ortega is at its height, the Church denounced the arrest Sunday of a priest “for unknown reasons”. This arrest comes after the closure on August 4 by the police of the bishopric of Matagalpa (north), preventing the exit of Bishop Rolando Alvarez and a dozen priests and lay people who accompany him.
In a press release published on social networks overnight from Sunday to Monday, the diocese of Siuna announced the arrest of priest Oscar Benavidez, parish priest of Espíritu Santo de Mulukuku (north of the Caribbean coast). “We do not know the cause and the motivations for his arrest. We are awaiting explanations from the authorities,” the statement said.
An open investigation
The priest “was extracted from his vehicle and taken in a police patrol car to an unknown location”, according to a tweet from the Nicaraguan Center for the Defense of Human Rights (Cenidh), which cites “several sources “, without further details. Neither the authorities nor the police confirmed or denied the information.
The diocese of Siuna was one of the first to express its solidarity with the bishop of Matagalpa, a critic of the government of Daniel Ortega. The Nicaraguan authorities accuse Bishop Rolando Alvarez, 55, of wanting to “organize violent groups” and incite “acts of hatred (…) in order to destabilize the State of Nicaragua”. The police announced that they had opened an investigation into these “criminal acts”.
Strained relations since 2018
Relations between the Catholic Church and the government of Daniel Ortega have been strained since 2018 when demonstrators demanding the resignation of the Nicaraguan president took refuge in churches. The repression of the demonstrations left more than 350 dead. President Ortega accuses the Catholic clergy of complicity in what he calls a coup attempt hatched by Washington. The crisis even led to the expulsion in March of the Apostolic Nuncio (Vatican Ambassador) Bishop Waldemar Sommertag.
Daniel Ortega, a 76-year-old former Sandinista guerrilla who has been in power since 2007, was re-elected to the presidency in November 2021 for a fourth consecutive term in a ballot from which all his potential opponents of weight were absent, those- ci having been arrested or forced into exile.