By José M. Tojeira
October 11, 2023 — This October 11, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, OAS, has issued a clear condemnation of the Ortega-Murillo regime’s repression against universities, religious institutions and the Catholic Church. It urges the Nicaraguan government to respect and guarantee the rights “to freedom of thought and expression, freedom of conscience, religion or belief, freedom of association, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to education and work.” It rejects repressive measures against educational centers and the Church, and calls for the “restitution of fundamental rights,” as well as “the protection of education.” Although the Ortega-Murillo government has officially shown its desire to remove Nicaragua from the OAS, the process of withdrawal lasts two years and therefore the country continues to belong to the OAS and is obliged to comply with the conventions and treaties it ratified in the past.
It is difficult for a regime like the current one in Nicaraguan to heed international demands, when inside the country it has closed off all possible origins of critical thought or differing opinions from the official narrative, be they from political parties or civil society institutions. More than 3,000 NGOs have been closed, be they secular or religious, working in education, development and solidarity. As a result, in addition to the loss of jobs, foreign aid has diminished enormously, and Nicaragua is already one of the countries in Central America with the highest rates of poverty. Among clergy, more than 150 priests and nuns, both religious and secular, have been expelled from the country, many of them having their citizenship revoked. Bishop Rolando Alvarez continues to be held hostage in prison and the regime continues to detain priests along with anyone who breathes contrary to their abuses of power. Evangelical churches have also seen 80 pastors expelled. The slightest insinuation in a religious ceremony, such as praying for the imprisoned, can be motive for expulsion from the country, or even imprisonment and loss of citizenship if one is Nicaraguan. The internal espionage, the presence of police at worship services, the harassment of the families of Nicaraguans who criticize the government from abroad, has condemned the churches to a great silence, which can only be broken from the outside.
However, the churches remain alive. As in other countries that in the past severely repressed religion, the people have opted for a culture of resistance that manifests itself in fidelity to worship and the Christian way of life. And close friends and neighbors talk among themselves, maintain their ideals, grow in a conviction of the necessary transformation and change of the political system of the country, and wait. At the same time, networks are being formed and strengthened which communicate amongst themselves the outrages and abuses of the regime. Among the exiles there are intellectuals, politicians, university professors, writers and poets, journalists, trade unionists, priests, pastors and nuns. A whole network of components of civil society receives and passes on information to the growing groups of exiles and the world of solidarity. Communication and opinion have grown through digital media outside Nicaragua, directed by journalists who had their radios and newspapers shut down in their country, and by young professionals who see the need to inform their fellow citizens of the abuses of the regime. And while the regime gloats over its internal control, the truth is making a way and awareness is growing stronger.
On the other hand, the constant and increasing abuses throughout 2023, are opening cracks in government circles. The empty and repetitive ideology of the regime is not enough to compensate for the suffering of many people nor to hide the irrationality of revoking the citizenship of one of the best modern-day novelists in Latin America, of closing universities, of painting hate messages on the walls of temples, of prohibiting processions rooted in the people’s culture and religion. The blind attacks of the government often hurt the interests even of those who support them. In his ode to Theodore Roosevelt, president of the United States in the early years of the 20th century, the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío, foreseeing the repeated US invasions of small Latin American countries, told him the following: “Roosevelt, one would have to be, through God himself, the-fearful Rifleman and strong Hunter, to manage to grab us in your iron claws.” The claws are now inside Nicaragua, and they belong to lesser gods, an obsolete mimicry of ancient bloody idolatries. But as the same poet said, “And, although you count on everything, you lack one thing: God!” Thus, in solidarity and unity with the majority of the Nicaraguan people.
Fr. José M. “Chema” Tojeira, SJ, is a Spanish and Salvadoran Jesuit, who has dedicated his ministry to Central America. He previously served as the rector of the University of Central America (UCA) in El Salvador and is a former Provincial of the Central American Jesuit province. He is the spokesperson for the Central American province on the current situation in Nicaragua.