Latin America

What has happened and what may happen in the Nicaraguan crisis

The social and political crisis in Nicaragua has increased markedly this summer, especially with regard to the harassment of the Church. We explain why the voice of the Church has become so respected among citizens and review the main events that have led to this situation. 

Javier Garcia-August 24, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes

Photo: Cardinal Brenes and Monsignor Silvio Baez arrive at anti-government protests in Diriamba on July 9, 2018. On that day the two prelates were attacked by armed groups aligned with the city's government . ©CNS/Oswaldo Rivas, Reuters

Article in English

At the end of June 2022, the international media were perplexed by the Nicaraguan government's decision to expel the harmless Daughters of Charity from the country.How was it possible that nuns, known throughout the world for their selfless and peaceful work, had to be expelled? The answer is quite simple: in their small medical clinics they were treating the wounded following police attacks in an attempt to quell the protests in the streets. Since the government had forbidden the protesters to go to public hospitals, they only had the option of going to those who never ignore those in need. Only the courage of these women was able to mitigate the damage. The crisis in Nicaragua reached an even higher point.

These serious protests originated in 2018, following the government's decision to lower pensions by 5% and increase corporate taxes. Police violence then left more than 300 dead and 2,000 injured, and the only place the protesters have found refuge has been in churches. Most of the country's parish priests have opened the doors of their parishes to them. The report The United Nations' report on the serious human rights crisis that was taking place in the country.

A bishop arrested

These two facts allow us to understand the determination that Daniel Ortega, the president of the country, has had since then and until now to silence the voice of the Church. On Friday, August 19, Nicaragua was again in the news in all the international media. Bishop Rolando Alvarez, of the diocese of Matagalpa, was arrested in the middle of the night at the archbishop's palace, along with several priests and seminarians. He is currently under house arrest again. 

In this way, the government was putting strong pressure on one of the main voices dissenting with the regime, surely in the hope that he would leave the country as a few priests and pastors have been forced to do. 

New harassment of the Church

In recent weeks the government has intensified surveillance of parishes. Many of them have police patrols at the door during Sunday masses. If the priest does not keep a delicate balance with respect to the situation in the country, the faithful are forbidden to enter the ceremonies. This is the reason why in recent days many photos and videos are being seen on social networks showing the faithful taking communion through the gates of the parish estates, under the watchful eye of the police. 

In this way, the government tries to pressure priests not to denounce the abuses committed and the causes of the political and social crisis that Nicaragua has been dragging along for fifteen years. A situation that has generated more than 150,000 refugees, most of them displaced to neighboring Costa Rica. 

Elimination of dissidents

One wonders why the Church has such a prominent leadership, to the point of currently being the government's number one target. Over the last decade, political repression in the country has been intense, resulting in numerous opposition leaders being exiled or imprisoned (18 opponents have been jailed in the last year). The judiciary has bowed to government interests, so that the separation of powers no longer really exists. 

Nicaragua, a small country with less than 7 million inhabitants, has nine bishops. One of them, Monsignor Silvio Baez, was forced into exile in 2019. But the government's pressure has not been limited only to the hierarchy, but in recent months it has closed Catholic television and radio stations.

The Church has tried to play as constructive a role as possible - within the tense and unstable situation - but over time it has become the only public voice with sufficient authority to denounce attacks on human rights. This has made many people respect and appreciate its strength. If we add to this the Catholic tradition of the country, it is logical that the Church is viewed favorably by the majority of the population and not by the government.

Chronology of the crisis and repression against the Church:

  • 1985-1990. Daniel Ortega is president of Nicaragua. 
  • January 2007. Daniel Ortega wins the elections again. His government is left-wing, heir to Sandinismo, and over the years it has become increasingly communist. 
  • October 2009. Nicaragua's supreme court accepts that Ortega can run again in the elections, despite the express prohibition of the constitution. The separation of powers is increasingly weakened. 
  • Ortega is reelected in 2012, 2017 and 2021.
  • May 2014. The bishops of the country meet with the president and his wife (then government spokesperson) to discuss the pastoral letter which the prelates had written analyzing the situation of the country and their proposals for improvement. The text denounced the lack of freedom of expression, the corrosion of the separation of powers, police violence and electoral rigging, among other things


  • April 2018. Daniel Ortega reduces pensions by 5% and increases company and worker contributions. Demonstrations and social protests begin, strongly repressed by the regime. Priests across the country open church doors to shelter protesters who were being attacked by police and paramilitary groups.
  • June 2018. The main bishops of the country process with the Blessed Sacrament in the middle of a demonstration, thanks to which a police massacre is avoided. The bishops ask the government for an early election to appease the mood of the citizens after the rigging of the 2017 elections.
  • July 2018. Government supporters harass Bishop Silvio Baez, who is lightly injured, when he went to verify reports of violence in which the country's security forces were allegedly involved.
  • August 2018. United Nations issues a report on the situation in the country. It noted the existence of a serious human rights crisis as a result of the social protests, which have resulted in approximately 300 people killed and 2,000 injured. 
  • December 2018. The United States imposes economic sanctions on the country. 


  • April 2019. Bishop Silvio Baez goes into exile at the request of Pope Francis, following pressure from the government before the Holy See.
  • July 2020. The cathedral of Managua suffers an attack, in the form of a fire.
  • November 2021. Ortega wins a rather corrupt election. Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Russia are the only countries that accept the result without reservations. 
  • March 2022. The government expels the nuncio from the country. 
  • May 2022. The government closes Channel 51, owned by the Episcopal Conference.
  • June 2022. The government outlaws more than one hundred NGOs, both confessional and secular. 
  • June 2022. The Missionaries of Charity are expelled from the country. The reason given by the government is that the dispensaries they attended were receiving donations from abroad and this money was used to buy weapons and destabilize the country. No evidence has been presented to corroborate this accusation.
  • July and August 2022. Several priests are arrested. The government closes 13 Catholic radio stations. 

August 2022. 

  • Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, bishop of Matagalpa, and main denouncer of the human rights attacks, is arrested at his residence along with other priests and seminarians. 
  • The government accuses Catholic organizations of not complying with the law against Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism. The reason is that it understands that those who help opponents of the regime favor divisions, protests, violence and terrorism against the state. 
  • Subsequent reports of the United Nations show the repression and lack of freedoms in Nicaragua. 
  • The Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, Rodrigo Guerra, explains that there is an intense shadow diplomatic work at the Holy See
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