Christianity Under Siege in Nicaragua

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The persecution of Christians has been a common occurrence across much of the Middle East and China, but an equally virulent persecution is taking place not far from American shores with minimal global attention.

Nowhere is this more evident than under the regime of Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega.

The Catholic Church has been a common target of contempt and accusations of undermining the leftist regime despite a history of liberation theology and pro-left activism in Nicaragua.

The Sandinista revolutionary-turned-dictator Ortega, who returned to power in 2007 after ruling Nicaragua over a decade in the 1980s, never has been favorable toward the Catholic Church. Since the clergy lent their support to student protesters in 2018, however, his government has ramped up persecution significantly against any civil society sector that dares to speak up.

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As of April, Ortega held at least 181 political prisoners.

Since 2018, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has faced over 190 distinct attacks, ranging from arson, government paramilitary attacks, and the exile of prominent priests and religious figures critical of the Ortega regime.

A total of 18 Catholic nuns from the Missionaries of Charity were stripped of their legal status June 28 and escorted by police out of Nicaragua and into exile in neighboring Costa Rica under accusations of political subversion and supporting terrorism.

In a recent report by the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory, a Latin America civil society group, attorney Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro stated that the Ortega regime has “initiated an indiscriminate persecution against bishops, priests, seminarians, religious, lay groups and toward everything that has a direct or indirect relationship with the Catholic Church.”

The Trump administration was outspoken in opposition to Ortega’s persecution of Christians, with Vice President Mike Pence calling out Ortega as well as Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro on their violations of religious liberty and freedom of speech.

The Biden administration, on the other hand, has done little to help the Christians of Nicaragua and broader Latin America, instead attempting to open up ties with the leftist regimes of the region and admitting repeated outreach to the Ortega regime.

In response to the Catholic Church’s efforts to mediate the protests in 2018, Ortega and his allies have labeled the church, which claims 60% of the nation as adherents, as being “committed to the coup- mongers [and] part of the coup-mongers’ plan.”

Monsignor Silvio Baez, a prominent critic of the regime, was forced to flee the country in 2019 after receiving a call from the U.S. Embassy warning him of an imminent assassination attempt. Baez previously had been beaten and stabbed by unknown assailants and received a constant stream of threatening phone calls before his flight from Nicaragua.

The Catholic Church and its clergy have been prominent critics of government corruption and violence, but since 2018 the violence has been more targeted, as seen by the situation with Baez.

Ortega’s increasing repression and economic mismanagement have led to a mass exodus of Nicaraguans, believers and nonbelievers alike, to the United States.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection estimates that at least 170,000 Nicaraguans have arrived in America since the beginning of 2021. Ortega also has enabled the Cuban dictatorship to weaponize immigration to extract U.S. concessions, by lifting visa restrictions for tens of thousands of Cubans en route to the U.S. border by way of Nicaragua.

Although the protests that originally spurred the Nicaraguan government crackdown have been suppressed into submission for the most part, the Ortega regime continues to target the Catholic Church and its believers in a quest to purge all dissent.

Leaders in the U.S. and across the West must stand up for the rights of persecuted Nicaraguan Christians and hold Ortega accountable for his violation of human rights before such violence escalates further. 

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