The dozens of riot police surrounding the Episcopal Curia where the Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Alvarez, and ten of his collaborators are being held hostage, has disrupted daily life in the city center. Many activities of its residents are suspended with losses to businesses and limitations to transport in the downtown area. The police siege has been going on for a week as of Wednesday. Ecclesiastical sources say pressure from the Ortega regime is mounting to force the bishop into exile.
When Alvarez faced the police with the Blessed Sacrament in his hands accompanied by faithful with their rosaries on August 4, he felt fear because the days of April 2018 came at his head, days marked by death and repression. For him, it also meant a subsequent problem: dealing day after day with the cordon of officers that blocks the access to reach his residence and work center. He then decided that it was best to stay inside to avoid problems.
The city of Matagalpa is located about two hours north (128 kilometers) north of the capital Managua. It has a concentrated center on two one-way streets, the Commerce street and the Street of the Banks, now subjected to strict police controls.
“In my case, I had errands to run. But they didn’t let me get by. They completely blocked the streets on August 4. The order was not to let anyone pass. All of us who work in the surrounding area were affected,” said Jose.
We bring you the testimonies of five Matagalpa residents, who agreed to tell the vicissitudes they have faced in the last seven days to lead a “normal” life, after the Police Special Operations limited access to the Episcopal Curia, establishing an initial perimeter of four blocks that was reduced to one block on Sunday.
Since the end of last May, the regime has intensified its attacks on the Catholic Church. First they surrounded Bishop Alvarez in Managua and Father Harving Padilla in Masaya. They imprisoned two priests: in June the parish priest of Nandaime, Manuel Garcia, and in July, Monsignor Leonardo Urbina in Boaco. Both have faced trials considered, by independent experts, as examples of legal processes without guarantees. Meanwhile, the Executive has intensified the hate speech against the Church, whom they accuse of conspiring in an alleged “coup” d’état as they call the massive demonstrations of 2018.
The formula of terror: Avellan and Gutierrez
“Alberta” tells us the most intimidating thing in Matagalpa is to observe while citizens go about their daily activities police officers located every two or three meters in an exhibition of their “muscle” that affects both private vehicles, bus drivers and taxi drivers, forced to take alternate routes. “Not even the garbage truck can access, nobody! The Police are armed to the teeth and with an attitude that instills fear,” she lamented.
“Francisco” affirms that the atmosphere in the city is very tense because the officers can be seen near the Cathedral, but also on the sidewalk of the school (in front), and numerous locations.
According to residents, consulted by CONFIDENCIAL, there are about 40 police officers around the Curia who are relieved every eight hours. They are armed with AKs and machine guns, and supervised by Matagapa Police Chief Sergio Gutierrez, who approached Bishop Alvarez on August 4 to “advise” him to “collaborate with peace” when he prayed in the streets, surrounded by riot police.
Gutierrez served as political secretary of the ruling party at the Managua police headquarters when he was second in command of that delegation. In Matagalpa, the senior officer is under the orders of Deputy National Police Director Ramon Avellan, accused of being one of the main operators of the presidential couple in the 2018 “operation clean-up”, the violent clearing of the barricades erected by the population and which left hundreds of victims.
Meanwhile, the population moves with caution to avoid aggression from the officers. “One circulates with fear and with the concern that something is going to happen. They check everything on you. If you are going to pass by the Episcopal Curia, (which takes up an entire block), they check your wallet, they ask for your identity card and which house you are going to,” lamented “Francisco,” who as a Catholic rejects the position of the regime that considers the Church “an enemy.”
Matagalpa Police Chief Sergio Gutiérrez orders Bishop Rolando Álvarez to return to the interior of the curia on Thursday, August 4. Photo: Courtesy
Ortega wants to impose exile on Bishop Alvarez
After the days of police pressure, ecclesiastical sources informed CONFIDENCIAL that the regime is seeking to banish the bishop, a sharp critic of the Ortega-Murillo administration. However, those same sources said that Alvarez did not accept the exile offer. In 2019, Pope Francis asked Silvio Baez, the auxiliary bishop of Managua, to leave the country to protect him from threats from Ortega government fanatics.
On several occasions since 2018, Vice President Rosario Murillo tried to disqualify the Church, accusing it of conspiring against the government, after the priests and bishops assumed the defense of the human rights of citizens against the abuses of the State.
On August 5, Murillo said in her daily midday speech that the country is full of Christ, while she threatened that there were laws in the country and questioned those who sow, according to her, “hatred or discord.”
Although Murillo did not mention the bishop of Matagalpa by name, hours after her speech, the regime’s police opened an “investigation” against Alvarez, accusing him of “organizing violent groups” and “fostering hatred” to provoke violence.
On August 1, the Institute of Telecommunications (Telcor) closed seven radio stations of the Diocese of Matagalpa in an attempt to silence the Catholic Church, later the Police violently assaulted the parish of Sebaco and then intensified their persecution against the Bishop of Matagalpa.