WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — In a March 22 congressional hearing led by Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, political refugees from Nicaragua testified about the brutal persecution they and many others have suffered under the Communist dictator Daniel Ortega on account of their Catholic faith and for their defense of democracy and the rule of law.
Congresswoman Maria Salazar denounced the oppression in a direct address to the dictator, telling him, “Your days are numbered.”
The House Foreign Affairs joint subcommittee hearing entitled “The Ortega-Murillo Regime’s War Against the Catholic Church and Civil Society in Nicaragua: Bishop Alvarez, Political Prisoners, and Prisoners of Conscience” included testimony from Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro — political prisoners deported by Ortega to the U.S. in February and stripped of their nationality — together with human rights advocate Bianca Jagger.
The hearing came just a day after White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby admitted at a press briefing that he was “not tracking” the persecution of Nicaragua Bishop Rolando Alvarez, Ortega’s most hated enemy.
Introducing the hearing, Smith denounced “the extreme repression that the Ortega-Murillo regime is committing against the people of Nicaragua.”
“Under President Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua has become a pariah dictatorship in league with other human rights abusers like Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, Iran, North Korea and the People’s Republic of China,” Smith said. “Ortega is waging a war against religious freedom, and he is targeting the Catholic Church as the single most important independent institution remaining in Nicaragua.”
READ: UN Human Rights group declares Daniel Ortega has committed ‘crimes against humanity’ in Nicaragua
Salazar, in a fiery opening statement, castigated the Ortega regime, saying, “The Catholic Church is under siege. Almost three quarters of Nicaraguans belong to the Catholic Church. To have complete control over them the now dictator and chief Daniel Ortega needs to replace the Almighty God with his dictatorship. And that is why he is systematically hunting down and silencing the most sacred sovereign institution in Nicaragua’s history, the Catholic Church. The Church is the last, the loudest voice against his regime.”
Detailing the more than 400 attacks on the Church in recent years, Salazar continued, “In 2018, police went into the Divine Mercy parish located in Managua and locked in young protesters and rained bullets on them. They were looking for sanctuary, but instead they found death. In 2020, a firebomb was thrown in Managua’s cathedral destroying the famous image of [the] ‘Blood of Christ’ and an almost 400-year-old crucifix beloved by thousands and thousands of Nicaraguans.”
“Last year, Daniel Ortega escalated his attacks on the faithful. He ordered the dissolution of hundreds of NGOs, he expelled 18 of Mother Teresa’s nuns, holy women, who worked in the most dangerous areas in Nicaragua… As a journalist working for Univision, I interviewed those women; they were saints, and I felt their holiness when I walked into their humble clinic and spoke to them for hours.”
“He also shut down 19 Catholic radio and television stations. Not only that, last month, he broke relations with the Vatican and they are to expel the Apostolic Nuncio.”
“And now he wants us to be impressed by his goodness. A few weeks ago, he released you, 222 political prisoners, to the United States. He let them go, some of you, free, but he took away your citizenship, your families, your property, everything except your lives.”
“If Ortega were to be so compassionate… then Bishop Rolando Alvarez would have not been sentenced to 26 years in the most brutal prison called La Modelo for leading a powerful demonstration just crying for freedom.”
“From Managua, the message is clear: Ortega has made Nicaragua a prison for anyone who kneels to God the Father [and] la Santissima Virgen. In a shocking moment of clarity, Pope Francis himself called Ortega the new Hitler and compared the Sandinista movement to the Russian revolution.”
Addressing Ortega directly, Salazar then declared, “You would be wise to remember that the Catholic Church throughout history has defeated greater demons than you and your Satanic wife Rosario Murillo. It must humiliate you that everyone knows that despite your title of president, she has the real power. For that reason, it won’t surprise anyone that you are too small of a man to take down a 2,000-year-old legendary institution.”
Pointing then to the biblical account in the Book of Daniel, Salazar compared Ortega with the last king of Babylon, who “was also drunk on power and defied God.” Excoriating Ortega, she said, “Then the writing on the wall appeared, and the warning is the same for you. Your days are numbered, you have been measured and failed, and everything you have stolen from the people of Nicaragua will turn to ash.”
Felix Maradiaga, a former presidential candidate arrested by Ortega in 2021, declared of the regime, “I know from painful personal experience throughout my life that dictatorships cannot be dismantled with timid methods. There are people in Nicaragua willing to fight peacefully for freedom, but we cannot do it alone.”
Maradiaga detailed that in 2021 Ortega imprisoned “all the main opposition candidates and other civil society leaders.”
“By arresting us all, Ortega has made it clear that he has no chance of winning a free and competitive election. He also has no political will to do so because his sinister plan is to consolidate a family dictatorship.
“The most recent victim of that plan is the Catholic Church of Nicaragua, which is the only institution that stood in his way. Before, Ortega and his repression agencies had been persecuting, imprisoning, and extrajudicially killing peasants, students, and activists who seek to peacefully stop the dictatorship. The new phase of repression can only be defined as religious persecution.”
Offering details of the persecution, Maradiaga said that “on several occasions the Sandinista Police has forbidden parishioners from receiving the Eucharist inside the temple and does not allow religious celebration in the open, such as the recent prohibition of the ‘Via Crucis.’”
Maradiaga’s testimony was taken along with that of Sebastian Chamorro, another former presidential candidate who was kidnapped by police at his house during the night in front of his wife and daughter. His location was not disclosed to his family until three months later.
Recounting his experience in prison, Chamorro related, “As political prisoner, I suffered arbitrary detention and jail, inhumane treatments, threats, constant interrogations and [was] subject to punishments if I did not obey the rules. I was condemned to 13 years in prison in a fake trial, I was banished from my country and stripped from my nationality.”
Detailing the way in which he drew courage from Bishop Alvarez and the priests and seminarians arrested with him, with whom they shared imprisonment, Chamorro said, “We shared jail with them and saw their sufferings but also their strength, given by the faith and the strong ideals and principles of their leader, our pastor Alvarez.”
“So, the question is: Why Ortega’s war against the Church? The reason is simple. After putting all the opposition in jail, repressing all forms of protests, the dictator had to deal with the last standing voice defending freedom, peace and human dignity. Ortega had to silence the voice of the Church in order to impose his message of hate and violence.”
“Mr. Chairman, Ortega’s violence goes beyond members of the Church. By prohibiting processions during Holy Week, he is repressing millions who march every year on Good Friday with devotion to express their faith.”
Jagger, echoing a call for more sanctions on Nicaragua, also demanded, out of fear for Bishop Alvarez’s safety, that the Ortega regime certify proof of life to the international community.
Expressing his own sentiments of admiration for the courageous bishop, Smith declared, “We are inspired by the incredible faith and bravery of those, like Bishop Alvarez, who non-violently resist tyranny and refuse to give in to the demands of dictators. Bishop Alvarez has become a symbol of the Nicaraguan people’s struggle for freedom, but in return for his courage he has been unjustly sentenced to 26 years in one of Latin America’s most brutal prisons, La Modelo.”
Smith concluded, “We will continue to advocate for the unconditional release of Bishop Alvarez and the other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who remain in Nicaragua.”
LifeSiteNews’ extensive coverage of the Ortega regime’s persecution of its citizens and the Catholic Church can be found here.
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