Persecution of Christians has been a common occurrence in 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.
Ortega, the Sandinista revolutionary turned dictator and returned to power in
after ruling Nicaragua for more than a decade in the 1990s 2007, he was never in favor of the Catholic Church. Since the clergy lent their support to the student protesters in 2018, however, their government has significantly increased the persecution against any sector of civil society that dares to speak out.
In April, Ortega held at least 181 political prisoners.
, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has faced more than 190 distinct attacks, from arson, government paramilitary attacks and the exile of prominent priests and religious figures critical of the Ortega regime.
A total of Catholic nuns of the Missionaries of Charities were stripped of their legal status on 28 June and escorted by police out of Nicaragua and into exile in neighboring Costa Rica on subversion charges. policy and support for terrorism.
In a recent report by the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory, a Latin American civil society group, lawyer Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro stated that the Ortega regime “began an indiscriminate persecution against bishops, priests, seminarians, religious, lay groups and in relation to everything that has a direct or indirect relationship with the Catholic Church”.
The Trump administration has been outspoken in opposition to Ortega’s persecution of Christians, with Vice President Mike Pence criticizing Ortega and Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro for their violations of religious freedom and freedom of expression.
The Biden administration, on the other hand, has done little to help Christians in Nicaragua and Latin America in general, trying to forge ties with leftist regimes in the region and admitting repeated contacts with the regime of Ortega.
In response to efforts by the Catholic Church to mediate the protests in 2018, Ortega and his allies labeled the church — 60% of Nicaraguans are Catholic — as “committed to the coup plotters also with the plans of the putschists.”
Monsignor Silvio Baez, a prominent critic of the regime, was forced to flee the country in 2019 after receive a call from the US Embassy warning him of an impending assassination attempt. Baez had previously been beaten and stabbed by unknown assailants and received a steady stream of threatening phone calls before his flight from Nicaragua.
The Catholic Church and its clergy have been prominent critics of corruption and government violence, but since 2018 the violence has been more targeted, as seen by the situation with Baez.
The increasing repression of Ortega and economic mismanagement has led to a mass exodus of Nicaraguans, believers and non-believers, to the United States.
US Customs and Border Protection estimates that at least 170.000 Nicaraguans arrived in America since the beginning of 2021. Ortega also allowed the Cuban dictatorship to weaponize immigration to extract US concessions, lifting visa restrictions for tens of thousands of Cubans en route to the US border via Nicaragua.
Although the protests that originally spurred the Nicaraguan government’s crackdown have been largely suppressed, the Ortega regime continues to attack the Catholic Church and its believers in a quest to purge all dissent.
Leaders in the US and across the West must defend the rights of persecuted Nicaraguan Christians and hold Ortega accountable for his violation of human rights before this violence escalates further.