NicaNotes: A Nicaragua Bishop Is on His Knees, But Not to Ask for Forgiveness

By Magda Lanuza

(Magda Lanuza is a Nicaraguan sociologist who has worked over 25 years in sustainable development in Nicaragua and in Central America.)

[Some background: Bishop Rolando José Álvarez, Catholic Bishop of Matagalpa and Estelí, has this month been placed under house arrest in Matagalpa, and is under investigation for “organizing violent groups to destabilize the government.” The bishop was one of the Catholic leaders involved in the violent coup attempt in Nicaragua in 2018 and played a prominent role in the “national dialogue” that the government joined in a failed attempt to control opposition violence. His recent arrest has been widely publicized, including in the Washington Post, with scenes of him praying in the street before a line of police officers. However, a short communiqué from Nicaraguan Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and the Nicaraguan Bishops Conference clarified that the acts carried out by Rolando Álvarez were in his personal capacity and nothing to do with the rest of the bishops of the country.]

Bishop Rolando José Alvarez carried in a Palm Sunday procession.

At the end of July 2022, the Bishop of Rome travelled to Canada to ask for forgiveness. The reason for this gesture was that the Catholic Church together with the Canadian authorities had carried out a plan to eradicate their heritage from Indigenous children who came to religious schools. From 1831 to 1970, thousands of children in Catholic-run schools were cruelly punished for speaking their languages and retaining their customs and many died. The aim was to “Kill the Indian in the child,” thus exterminating the aboriginal population of that nation. In the face of such dreadful deeds, only the Pope has asked for humanity’s forgiveness. Similarly, the hierarchical Catholic Church in Nicaragua, composed of the bishops, has always been a factor in the struggle for political power, with its back turned away from the suffering of the majority. In 1934, the bishops of the time advised Augusto Sandino that he had better lay down his arms and that everything would improve if he did so. That same day the National Guard assassinated that same leader who had sought better living conditions for the people and basic rights for the peasantry to work in the fields.

The Catholic hierarchy supported the Somozas during the almost 45 years of their dictatorship and it was only two years before the Sandinista revolution that some in the hierarchy timidly supported the people’s liberation. But, of course, by this time not even the former US president Jimmy Carter gave his support to the dictator Somoza as his end came in 1979.

During the decade of the revolution in the 1980s, the Catholic hierarchy joined forces with the empire to remove Sandinismo from power. In the first three years, the bishops set out to cleanse the parishes of any vestige of liberation theology and the legacy of the Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez who in 1972 proposed giving priority to the poor in accordance with the 1968 Medellín Conference.

As part of their crusade, the hierarchy prepared for the arrival of John Paul II in Managua in 1983. In Nicaragua there was a slogan. “Between Christianity and revolution there is no contradiction” and so the main objective of the Pope’s visit was to discipline Nicaragua’s revolutionary priests who were working for a more just society from within the government. Afterwards the bishops celebrated the 1984 promulgation by the then Cardinal Ratzinger of the ‘Instruction’ on aspects of liberation theology. This Instruction censured this theology that was growing in strength in Latin America. And the majority of the clergy of the time abandoned their brother priests and supported the punishment that was being imposed on them, many of whom died while still under this censorship.

In 2007, with the return to power of Sandinismo in Nicaragua, a truce was devised, and concessions were made to the clergy. Among other things, the government invested in the renovation, construction and beautification of churches, cathedrals, and the squares and parks in front of Catholic temples. Everything was done in good faith, as Sandinistas are devoted, living Christians. However, in 2018, relations with the clergy again took a dramatic turn for the worse. The Catholic hierarchy openly led and participated in the violent revolt aimed at removing Sandinismo from power. The facts about their role are supported by published evidence contained in the report prepared by the Apostolic Nuncio, which he sent to the Pope.

In keeping with what the Church did in 2018 and the historical reality of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, last week Bishop Rolando José Álvarez appeared on his knees in public in front of the police. This bishop of two dioceses, Matagalpa and Estelí, major Sandinista strongholds, shouted excitedly that he was being persecuted, calling out with the figure of Christ in his hand. Curiously, this area has seven religious radio stations which are administered by this bishop. Before 2018, the religious media had tax exemptions, but these privileges have been withdrawn and that is at the root of the spectacle that Álvarez created. Of course, when we review the history of the church, we find that this institution has been reluctant to declare its income, despite collecting healthy revenues from its parishioners. The church hierarchy objects to declaring and paying their taxes, obligations that any honest citizen fulfils.

But, liberation theology is still alive and well in spite of the Nicaraguan clergy. In 2015 during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Pact of the Catacombs, signed in Domitilla, Italy, in 1965, Pope Francis told Jon Sobrino, one of the greatest liberation theologians, to “carry on writing.” In the present context, it is an unparalleled extrapolation that runs against history for Bishop Álvarez to compare himself (as he did) to the great St. Oscar Romero, martyr of the poor and oppressed of El Salvador. The Catholic Church in Nicaragua lags way behind all the other churches in Central America in terms any real commitment to the people. Therefore, to repeat: amen, amen, let us pray for the church of Nicaragua which is out of touch with reality and has no historical memory. But it is not enough to pray; as the song goes, “No basta rezar; hacen falta muchas cosas para conseguir la paz” — many other conditions are needed to achieve peace.

By Nan McCurdy

Nicaragua Elected Secretary General of Regional Organization, SICA
On August 11 the presidents of the member countries of the Central America Integration System (SICA) elected the Nicaraguan Dr. Werner Vargas as the new Secretary General of the regional organization. In announcing the decision, Vice-President Rosario Murillo stated that “the election of Dr. Vargas is a recognition of the right of Nicaragua to occupy the position of Secretary General of SICA and we are pleased and filled with pride to represent a path of unity for our Central America, a path of prosperity for our Central America because this is what we all want and need: to work for peace and the wellbeing of our peoples in fraternal union.” (Nicaragua News, 12 August 2022)

The CSE Announces Municipal Elections on November 6
On August 16 the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) announced municipal elections to be held on Sunday, November 6, 2022, in the 153 municipalities of the country. In the election, the positions of mayors, deputy mayors and councilpersons will be up for a vote. Members of the Municipal Councils include both proprietors and their respective alternates, according to the announcement published in the official newspaper, La Gaceta. The CSE urged the participating political parties to duly comply with the Constitution, the Electoral Law, the Law of Regulation of Foreign Agents, and the Law of Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, and to respect the rules of ethics, resolutions, agreements and regulations. The CSE urged compliance with gender equality and equity regulations including presenting 50% women and 50% men in their proposals for those to fill electoral structures and candidacies. (Radio La Primerisima, 16 August 2022)

Government to Cover All Increases in Fuel and Cooking Gas
It was announced on August 12 that the Sandinista Government will cover the cost of the increases in the prices of fuels and cooking gas, corresponding to the week of August 14 to 20. For gasoline and diesel, an increase of 2.52 córdobas/gallon was foreseen in accordance with the international prices of oil derivatives. However, the government has decided to cover 100% of this increase, for the benefit of Nicaraguan families. As for cooking gas, the current prices will be maintained, without any adjustment, so there will be no change in the price for 10-pound, 25-pound and 100-pound tanks. (Radio La Primerisima, 12 August 2022)

Government to Provide 50,000 Lots and 15,000 Homes
The government, through the Bismarck Martínez Program, will deliver almost 50,000 lots in 2022, reported Vice President Rosario Murillo. “And, also, by year end, we will have delivered at least 15,000 houses….” (Radio La Primerisima, 12 August 2022)

Nicaragua and Panama with Lowest Inflation
Last week, the Bank of Guatemala presented its “Survey of Economic Expectations to the Panel of Private Analysts” report corresponding to June 2022. The report states that Nicaragua and Panama, each with 5.2% cumulative inflation rate as of June 2022, have the lowest inflation rates in the Central American region, followed by El Salvador (7.76%); Dominican Republic (9.48%); Costa Rica (10.1%); and Honduras (10.22%). (Nicaragua News, 10 August 2022)

Electricity Reaches 99.2% of Homes
The National Electricity Transmission Company (ENATREL) presented the National Program for Sustainable Electrification and Renewable Energy (PNESER) Report corresponding to the period of January to August 2022. The report states that national electricity coverage has reached 99.2%, on a pace to achieve the goal of 99.9% projected for this year. Energy Minister Salvador Mansell explained that “between January and August this year, US$23.7 million has been invested in 149 electricity projects, benefiting 23,110 inhabitants.” He added that “the electrification projects in Nicaragua are restoring the right of Nicaraguans to electricity in their homes and also changing the national energy grid now based on 70% of energy generated from renewable sources.” (Nicaragua News, 15 August 2022)

1,000 Families Now Legal Property Owners
The Office of the Solicitor General announced that 1,015 new property titles were delivered this week to families in Boaco and Chontales departments. Solicitor General Wendy Morales stated that the titles were delivered house to house, in compliance with Covid-19 prevention measures and the project is part of the Legal Certainty and Family Stability Program of the Nicaragua Government. (Nicaragua News, 12 August 2022)

Relationships of Trust Between Police and Community Growing
The Nicaragua Police presented a report of the Inter-Institutional Program for Comprehensive Care and Development of Adolescents and Youth for the period between January and July 2022. The report states that 13,020 families participated in workshops and received psychological care on prevention, identification, and treatment of addictions. 190,035 youths attended community counseling programs and 412 adolescents were reintegrated into schools. Forty-six thousand police-community operations for prevention of situations of violence and highly dangerous crimes were carried out. The Inter-institutional Program seeks to establish a relationship of trust between the Police and the community that helps with public safety. (Nicaraguan News, 16 August 2022)

Nicaragua Largest Gold Exporter in Central America
Forbes Central America magazine reported on August 11 that with US$1.5 billion in gold exports during 2021, Nicaragua is by far the largest exporter of gold in the Central American region followed by Honduras US$278.6 million; Costa Rica US$21.5; Panama US$12 million. (Nicaragua News, 16 August 2022)

US Scientific Journal Highlights Study by Nicaraguan Specialists
The August 11 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted a study conducted by experts from the Ministry of Health of Nicaragua with the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Michigan, on the protection associated with a previous infection by Covid-19 in the year 2021 ( The study reflects the high capacity of the MINSA laboratory and its specialists, and was conducted with 2,353 participants who had blood samples taken to measure their antibodies against Covid and determine protection against the Coronavirus. It was demonstrated that one year after having been infected with the virus naturally (without vaccination), there is protection against a second infection with Covid-19. Such protection was lower than that observed after the first wave, which is due to the circulation of new variants and the decrease of protective antibodies, a situation that indicates that vaccination should continue. All the technology applied for the determination of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and genomic sequencing to identify new variants were carried out in the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health laboratory. (Radio La Primerisima, 13 August 2022)

President of the Evangelicals Notes Freedom of Religion
Evangelical pastor Miguel Angel Casco Gonzalez, President of the Evangelical Coordinating Committee and the Community of Faith, said that there is a “new wave of lies that are invading the social networks” about religious freedom in Nicaragua… “One of the axes of attack of the political and religious right financed by US agencies against the Nicaraguan revolution is to proclaim without any arguments that in Nicaragua the churches are persecuted and that there is no religious freedom, a statement that is totally false. Those who raise this political banner do so from a platform of lies and falsehood. The Bible teaches us that ‘Satan is the father of lies and everyone who lies is a child of Satan,’” he said. He went on to say, “Here we have wide freedoms for the preaching of the Gospel, there are more than 50 radio stations that broadcast the Christian message, five departmental and two national cable television channels, open air campaigns, house to house evangelization, distribution of thousands of Bibles…On the part of the government there is a constant promotion of Christian values as fundamental principles for the common good.” (Informe Pastran, 15 August 2022)