The priest Enrique Martínez Gamboa became the eleventh Catholic religious that the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo has arrested in less than six months on the afternoon of October 13, in a context of rampant religious persecution in Nicaragua. The police broke into the house of the relatives of the priest, located in Managua, where he lived. Church sources assure that he was transferred to the dreaded El Chipote prison, a center for torture and mistreatment of political prisoners, but so far the National Police has not reported his arrest, much less what they are going to accuse him of. .
“The parish priest of the Santa Martha parish, Managua, was kidnapped. Father Enrique Martinez. The priests and the Catholic Church demand the liberation and the end of the persecution against the Church and the clergy. Justice, freedom and democracy,” tweeted the priest Uriel Vallejos, who went into exile at the end of last August, after four days of siege in his parish, Divina Misericordia, in the northern department of Matagalpa.
The arrest of the priest Martínez Gamboa adds to the house arrest regimen that the Ortega-Murillo regime imposed 60 days ago on the bishop of Matagalpa, Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, the highest figure that Catholicism has as a political prisoner until now. Vice President Murillo said that the cleric committed “crimes against spirituality” and that is why he was violently removed from the curia at dawn, where he was kidnapped by the police for fifteen days and survived from the pantry. Later, the Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation against him for “trying to organize violent groups and carry out acts of hatred against the population.”
Along with Monsignor Álvarez, four priests, two seminarians and a cameraman who accompanied him in his confinement were arrested. Judge Nalia Úbeda Obando, of the Fifth Criminal District Court of Hearings of Managua, opened a process against them under charges of “treason against the country” and “propagation of false news”, that is, the “Cybercrime Law”, a of the gags that the regime uses against anyone who criticizes it.
Two other parish priests, Manuel García Rodríguez and Leonardo Urbina, have already been sentenced. The first to two years in prison for an alleged threat with weapons against five Sandinista sympathizers in the city of Nandaime and also to two years and eight months for “psychological injuries and physical injuries” against Martha Candelaria Rivas Hernández, who after the conviction of the religious denied the crime blamed by the Prosecutor’s Office. The woman was later prosecuted for “false testimony.” The second sentenced to 30 years is Monsignor Leonardo Urbina for the alleged crimes of sexual abuse and rape of a teenager.
The police state has also boycotted Catholic processions and activities, to the point that the two bosses of the city of Masaya, one of the hardest hit by paramilitary repression in 2018, imposed a kind of “church for jail” on them, since they prohibited parishioners celebrate them in mid-September. Both in Matagalpa and Masaya the temples are watched by police and civilians related to the regime.
Despite the onslaught, the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (CEN) has been timid in responding. August 20 was the only occasion that the Catholic collegiate body expressed its rapprochement and “deep pain” for the situation of Monsignor Álvarez. A month later, Pope Francis confirmed that there was a dialogue with Nicaragua, but until now the regime has blown up all the bridges built by the international community, from the Vatican, through the Government of Gustavo Petro, the European Union and the United States itself. .
“There was not the support that was expected from the bishops, none was belligerent and solid with Monsignor Álvarez,” claims a parishioner from Matagalpa who was interviewed in Nicaragua by the Divergent media outlet.
He called them “killer couple”
After the arrest of Enrique Martínez Gamboa, a video of the religious, recorded on May 30, 2018, a disastrous day for Nicaragua, circulated on social networks: police and paramilitaries massacred the march called Mother of All Marches, leaving eight dead in Managua and 11 in the departments. On that occasion, the priest called Ortega and Murillo a “murderous couple”.
“Nicaraguans are the majority and we have a clean heart, not blood-stained hands like others. Don’t cower, don’t cower, don’t cower. Long live Nicaragua, long live the mothers of those who fell on [April] 19, long live decent doctors and journalists. Out with the murderous couple, out with the miserable murderers,” the priest shouted to the crowd terrified by the lethal shots fired by government forces.
The persecution has also caused an unprecedented flight of religious. At least 60 people, including priests, deacons, seminarians and nuns have left or been expelled by the regime. The accounting is kept by the Nicaraguan Human Rights Collective Never Again and ensures that at least thirty religious decided to go into exile to protect “their life and integrity.”
The Government has expelled the former apostolic nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Managua, Silvio Báez; the priest nephew of the national hero Augusto C. Sandino, Edwing Román; and 18 nuns from the Missionaries of Charity order, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
“We have received complaints from priests who are in Italy, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, in the Vatican itself, and in the case of the United States, they have housed Monsignor Báez and Father Román,” says human rights defender Yader Valdivia, who documents the cases. “The forced displacement of religious groups is a generalized pattern at the national level,” he warns.
“It is one of the stages of the regime to want to silence the last legitimate organized voices that exist in Nicaragua, such as the Catholic Church. The regime has gone against the media, against human rights organizations, against activists, the Church, artists,” Valdivia lists and throws out another piece of information that measures the persecution: “in each department of Nicaragua there is at least one religious who has been displaced”. The “sin” of these religious, analysts consulted by EL PAÍS agree, is that they have denounced the regime’s human rights violations and have become a prophetic voice of hope in a context of totalitarianism and repression.