Daniel Ortega, the brutal dictator in charge of Nicaragua, has been increasingly targeting the nation’s Catholic community, in part by ordering more than half a dozen religious radio stations to close.
Amid ongoing protests against the Ortega regime, many Nicaraguan Catholics are increasingly frustrated by the perceived inaction of the Vatican and want Pope Francis to intervene on their behalf.
Each of the shuttered radio stations belonged to the Roman Catholic Church and Ortega’s latest move has earned condemnation from governments around the world – including the U.S. Department of State.
In a statement this week, the agency’s undersecretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs denounced Ortega’s “brutal assault on Catholic clergy, radio facilities and community members in Sebaco,” calling it an inexcusable attack on freedom of speech and religion.
Brian Nichols went on to ask: “How can men and women in uniform – many of them people of faith – carry out such orders?”
Rev. Uriel Vellejos described the frightening scene that unfolded when authorities raided the home where he worked on one of the shuttered radio stations.
He wrote on Facebook that he was “being besieged” after officers “broke the chapel’s locks to enter where the equipment is, to take it.”
From there, he said that officers fired their weapons, deployed tear gas canisters, turned off electricity to the home, and took a number of other individuals into custody. The priest said that at least two people were hurt in the process.
After taking down the radio station, Vallejos wrote that police were “attacking the faithful who are inside the school.”
Despite claims from Nicaraguan authorities that the radio stations did not have proper licenses to remain in operation, there is no doubt among church leaders and parishioners that it was a thinly veiled excuse for oppressing the nation’s Roman Catholic community.
Once again, the government of #Nicaragua tries to silence the Catholic Church, closing yet another diocesan radio, claiming it has been running illegally for almost two decades, despite evidence to the contrary.
— Ines San Martin (@inesanma) August 1, 2022
Governmental attacks on Catholics across the country have been widely reported for some time and the nation’s faithful say the pope’s silence on the matter is deafening. Earlier this year, Catholic Nicaraguan writer Giocanda Belli wrote that she did not “understand how Pope Francis can remain silent in the face of attacks on the most beloved priests of Nicaragua” while ignoring the atrocities of the nation’s Communist dictator.
Even though some Catholic representatives say the pontiff doesn’t deserve such harsh rebukes because he has limited influence over the Ortega regime, many others say the criticism is justified.
Latin America Watch Director Agustin Antonetti, for example, called the pope’s silence “scandalous,” adding: “Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship is taking the churches by force, they have shut down all their channels and radios, even one priest is in jail, and the rest are afraid of being kidnapped.”