Nicaraguan Catholics are reportedly increasingly upset at Pope Francis for remaining silent as the oppressive Communist regime of dictator Daniel Ortega shuts down Catholic radio stations and sends goon squads to harass protesters.
The U.S. State Department on Wednesday denounced the Ortega regime for ordering six radio stations belonging to the Roman Catholic Church to shut down.
“Ortega-Murillo’s brutal assault on Catholic clergy, radio facilities and community members in Sebaco is another blow to religious freedom in Nicaragua as well as to the freedom of expression. How can men and women in uniform – many of them people of faith – carry out such orders?” said Undersecretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian A. Nichols, referring to Ortega and his vice president and wife, Rosario Murillo.
The radio stations received shutdown orders from Nicaragua’s telecom agency Telcor on Monday. Rev. Rolando Alvarez, bishop of Matagalpa province and a tireless critic of Ortega’s religious repression, denounced the move as an “injustice” with no legal authority.
Monday’s orders brought the total number of Catholic radio stations silenced in Matagalpa to eight, plus an award-winning youth-oriented feminist station called Radio Vos.
Several of these station closings involved brusque police action. Radio Vos said police officers arrived at the broadcast facility to close down its transmitters. Ortega’s police also forced their way into the Nino Jesus de Praga chapel in the town of Sebaco to confiscate equipment from the radio station operating from there.
The diocese of Matagalpa stated that the parish priest, Rev. Uriel Vellejos, was inside the house where the radio station operated.
“I am being besieged. The police have broke the chapel’s locks to enter where the equipment is, to take it. The police are attacking the faithful who are inside the school,” Vallejos reported on Facebook.
According to the Catholic News Agency (CNA), police fired shots in the air and deployed tear gas to keep the church congregation from assisting Father Vallejos.
Vallejos said the police cut off power to the house, injured two of his parishioners, and detained several people who answered his call for help.
CNA reported that Telcor claimed the radio stations in Matagalpa lacked the necessary broadcast licenses as a pretext for silencing them. The diocese responded that all of the necessary paperwork was presented to regulators in person years ago by Rev. Alvarez, but Telcor never responded to the applications.
Telcor also cited vague “technical” deficiencies by the Catholic radio stations but refused to specify what they were.
“We will continue to report and denounce any situation that, like this one, continues to violate the freedom of speech and religion in Nicaragua,” the diocese said in a statement.
The Nicaraguan Independent Journalists and Communicators association (PCIN) denounced the station closings as a “massacre of freedom of information” and a “brutal strategy of the authorities that seek a national blackout of critical voices.”
“Such a decision, carried out with the police and civilians who operate alongside them, has caused damage to infrastructure, injuries to people in solidarity with the management of the closed media outlet in Sebaco, Matagalpa, and violently detained young people,” the PCIN said.
The PCIN demanded full restoration of the radio stations, respect for the civil rights of broadcasters, and protection against “aggressions by the police and Sandinista fanatics.”
Infobae on Wednesday reported growing unhappiness among Nicaraguans with the lack of response from the Vatican and Pope Francis to Ortega’s war on Catholic radio. For that matter, they thought the Pope should have spoken out against the Ortega dictatorship long ago.
Infobae recalled the Ortega regime going to war against Catholics after protests broke out against the very suspect election that kept him in power in November 2021. Ortega and Murillo decided the Catholic Church was aiding a “coup” against them by giving shelter to protesters. The regime unleashed an escalating wave of violence and vandalism against churches, forcing several priests into exile.
“I do not understand how Pope Francis can remain silent in the face of attacks on the most beloved priests of Nicaraguans, how it is possible that he does not see a person of the highest power who, daily, uses the name of God in vain and preaches love while sowing hatred,” Nicaraguan writer Gioconda Belli remarked in May.
Other prominent Nicaraguan Catholic writers were less critical of the Pope’s position, arguing that his influence with the Ortega regime was minimal, and he could make the situation for Nicaraguans worse by picking a public fight with the paranoid and vicious Communist ruler.
Agustin Antonetti, director of a non-governmental organization called Latin America Watch, rejected those excuses on Thursday.
“Pope Francis’ silence on what’s going on in Nicaragua is scandalous. Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship is taking the churches by force, they have shut down all their channels and radios, even one priest is in jail, and the rest are afraid of being kidnapped,” he said.