Why Did Bishop Alvarez Refuse to Leave Nicaragua? A Former Political Prisoner Explains

The former presidential candidate said the release of the bishop of Matagalpa ‘is an obligation of all human rights defenders in any corner of planet Earth’ and that ‘it’s not just a religious matter.’

Bishop Rolando Álvarez.
Bishop Rolando Álvarez. (photo: Middle Diocese / TV Merced)

Félix Maradiaga, a former political prisoner and presidential candidate who now lives in exile in the United States, explained why he believes that Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who was sentenced to 26 years and four months in prison, decided to stay in Nicaragua and not be deported to the United States when he had the chance to leave.

In a recent interview with EWTN and ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Maradiaga said he was edified by “seeing the example of a bishop who has given absolutely everything for the freedom of his people.”

Bishop Álvarez was sentenced on Feb. 10 after he was unjustly accused of being a “traitor to the homeland” due to his criticism of the dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

A day earlier, the bishop refused to be part of the 222 political prisoners, which included priests and seminarians, who were deported to the United States.

“Bishop Álvarez could perfectly well have gotten on that plane with all of us on Feb. 9, when we were exiled, expelled from Nicaragua,” Maradiaga recounted.

“He refused to do it because he couldn’t leave his people behind. Because he had to give an example, a sacrificial witness to people who are still in prison.”

The former political prisoner said that the bishop stated at that time: “I’m not going to leave until all the prisoners are free.”

“It’s a supreme act of sacrifice. That example must be heard by the whole world,” stressed Maradiaga, noting that there are 37 political prisoners who are still in the country’s jails.

The former presidential candidate said the release of the bishop of Matagalpa “is an obligation of all human rights defenders in any corner of planet Earth” and that “it’s not just a religious matter.”

“It’s an ethical and moral obligation of all the governments of Latin America and the world, not only of the United States but also of Europe and of the organizations that defend human rights,” he added.

How are those in exile in the United States doing?

Maradiaga explained in the interview with ACI Prensa that the 222 deportees came from 11 Nicaraguan prisons and that they have been dispersed to 26 destinations in the United States.

All the deportees were stripped of their Nicaraguan citizenship. Spain offered them citizenship, an offer that 81 of them accepted, while 111 of the exiles are in a vulnerable situation due to their health or old age. 

“A request has been made to the United States Congress to grant a special law protecting this group of 222, and they have answered us in the affirmative. There’s a lot of political will for a special mechanism protecting them, because what we have at the moment is only a humanitarian measure that is not yet political asylum. That’s the situation,” he explained.

Easter in Exile

“On Easter Sunday last year, along with other fellow political prisoners in the El Chipote prison, we went through a very difficult Holy Week locked up in those inhumane cells,” Maradiaga recalled in an April 9 message sent to ACI Prensa.

The days in prison were hard because they had to pray in silence, “almost in secret, since the prison guards did not allow praising God out loud.”

However, “we had faith that soon we would be able to praise God outside of those bars,” he continued.

This April 9, which was Easter Sunday, “I celebrate two months of having embraced my wife, Berta, in freedom, my daughter Alejandra and my mother, Carmen,” he related.

“For that I give glory to God for what I consider a miracle. I offer him my freedom as an instrument and as an offering of gratitude, to be used according to his will.”

Maradiaga encouraged people to “never forget that God can do extraordinary things for Nicaragua and for our families. Obviously God acts through people, but his timing is perfect.”