Exclusive: ‘They Called Us Satanic’: Bishop Exposes Christian Persecution in Communist Nicaragua

Nicaraguan Catholic faithful take part in a mass to demand the freedom of political prisoners and to cease the attack on the Catholic Church in Managua's Cathedral, in Managua on October 28, 2018. (Photo by INTI OCON / AFP) (Photo credit should read INTI OCON/AFP/Getty Images)
INTI OCON/AFP/Getty Images

The Marxist regime in Nicaragua is persecuting members and leaders of the Catholic Church and committing “murders and crimes against humanity” for over a year since pro-democracy protests began there, a bishop in the country told Breitbart News.

Catholics do not have the freedom to worship as they please or organize to live the teachings of Jesus Christ, Monsignor Juan Abelardo Mata, Bishop of the diocese of Estelí, told Breitbart News in a Spanish-language phone interview on Friday. Nicaragua is nearly 85 percent Christian and about half Catholic, but this has not stopped the Marxist Sandinista government, led by dictator Daniel Ortega, from repressing the Christian faith.

Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) has ruled Nicaragua for most of the past four decades. Ortega himself led the country first from 1979 to 1990 and then from 2007 to today. He has appointed his wife, Rosario Murillo, the nation’s vice president.

Protests erupted in Nicaragua against the Ortega regime in April 2018, initially against an Ortega plot to cut down government pension payments. Ortega responded to the small, peaceful protests against the policy by gunning down protesters. The small pension protests yielded to a nationwide, student-led effort to demand free and fair elections and the restoration of democracy in the country that continues to this day. Ortega’s police and civilian thugs have killed hundreds and arrested thousands; Mata says the unofficial gangs terrorizing protesters are particularly active in rural areas where journalists have a hard time penetrating.

The Catholic Church actively aided the pro-freedom movement, mediating with the Sandinistas and offering sanctuary to students seeking it at churches. Monsignor Mata was among the Catholic clergy to mediate with the government and, after the talks failed, urge Ortega to come back to the negotiating table and stop killing people.

“The local government requested the intervention of the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference to seek a solution to the problem. We did our thing, we helped create civil society organs to dialogue with the government,” Monsignor Mata explained. The government then resorted to “murder and crimes against humanity.”

The Ortega regime is “committing crimes against humanity and does not want to cede in any way the necessary spaces so that the people, using the powers they have, can manifest their will,” Monsignor Mata said.

The bishop blamed “the ideology that governs this government, which is based in Marxist-Leninist thought,” for much of the violence, though he rejected the idea that Ortega’s oligarchy was more loyal to the tenets of communism than its own personal wealth.

“In practice, it is a crony capitalism … that doesn’t even answer to the idea of communism because access to government-generated wealth is only available to those close to the government,” he noted.

The Ortega regime has killed hundreds of protesters and, at the height of the protests, tortured those arrested for calling for democracy, including at least one American citizen. Marco Noel Novoa, who was arrested in May 2018, told Breitbart News he was subjected to rape, electroshock, waterboarding, and psychological torture at the hands of Ortega’s Marxist thugs.

“We soon figured out that the government did not have the will to find a solution but to simply sell the idea that they were a government open to democratic solutions to problems. In May, early June, the dialogue ended and we were left up in the air,” Monsignor Mata noted to Breitbart News.

For his efforts, Nicaragua military troops attempted to assassinate Monsignor Mata in July 2018, shooting up his convoy and, when failing to kill him, trying to set it on fire. He has also come under litigation for revealing that an Ortega “paramilitary” thug accidentally killed his own son while shooting at protesters; his son had joined the other side.

“There is a permanent harassment [campaign] against priests, bishops, and harassment against people involved in the activities of the Church because they have felt in the Catholic Church a very strong [energy] that is going against their plans and programs to maintain power at all costs using only the power of weapons,” Monsignor Mata told Breitbart News. “[There is] persecution – sometimes openly, sometimes covertly – but also the killing of organizers, particularly in rural areas. Not just civic organizers, but in the Church itself, because they [regime leaders] feel that these people … can be potential enemies.”

Following the bishops’ call for new negotiations, Monsignor Mata explained, Ortega and his cronies “called us coup plotters who were at the fore of this social discord and said we were satanic.”

“They want to take our peace,” Ortega said of the protesters in a speech in July. “This is a satanic sect thing, please, mister bishop, exorcise these devils, these demons!”

The bishop believes the “satanic” insult was tied to protesters responding to the bishops calling for Catholics to pray Pope Leo XIII’s prayer to the Archangel St. Michael, which reads in part, “Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil … by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

“We asked people to pray St. Michael’s prayer, the Leo XIII prayer, and they thought we were calling them satanic. Not at all!” Monsignor Mata told Breitbart News. “We believe that evil is not any individual person – its a thought, a way of being that hinders the minds of people and makes them act against human dignity.”

Monsignor Mata said that the bishops are now working to organize help from the international community and, in the United States, reached to Vice President Mike Pence, who has prioritized international religious freedom during his term.

“We need support, not just internally, so that they respect human rights here,” he said.

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