From the Washington Post, 8/19/22:
“Federal police stormed the home of a Catholic bishop in northern Nicaragua at dawn on Friday and detained one of President Daniel Ortega’s most prominent remaining critics as the government moved ever closer to silencing all dissent in the Central American country.
“Authorities placed the bishop, the Rev. Rolando Álvarez, under house arrest at his parents’ home in Managua, the capital. Five priests and two seminarians who were with him at his residence in Matagalpa were locked up in El Chipote, the notorious prison where more than 100 of the president’s opponents have been jailed. …
“In the past year, Ortega’s government has jailed nearly all his best-known opponents, including seven politicians who had been expected to seek the presidency last November. His government has also shut down hundreds of civil society groups, as well as universities and media organizations, in one of the most intense waves of repression in the hemisphere.
“It has engaged in an increasingly bitter feud with religious leaders in the majority-Catholic country, closing eight Catholic radio stations and expelling the Vatican’s ambassador, the Rev. Waldemar Sommertag. Authorities also expelled 18 nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa, who had been helping run shelters and orphanages.”
It feels like we’re in a time warp, the stories taken almost verbatim from the 1980s—the first time the Marxist tyrant Ortega sought to impose his will by terrorizing the Nicaraguan people, persecuting the Church, and banishing to his gulags any who dared dissent.
Except back then, it was hard to find any negative media coverage, or criticism of Ortega’s Sandinista government from western political liberals or the Catholic left. Having ousted Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua’s authoritarian despot, Ortega was being hailed as the “democratic reformer” he styled himself.
It was those who protested his subsequent persecutions of the Church and the Nicaraguan people who were tagged as subversives—people like Nicaragua’s Catholic primate, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, and Pope John Paul II, who warned, during a contentious visit to the country in 1983, against “false prophets” who “present themselves in sheep’s clothing, but inside they are ferocious wolves.”
This was a familiar scene across the globe in those days: progressives, Catholic and secular, supporting revolutionary overthrow of repressive regimes, only to usher in brutal Marxist totalitarians. But by the time that became evident in each succeeding case—Cuba, then Southeast Asia, then Central America—the left-activists had invariably moved on to supporting the next insurgency, never bothering to look back at or learn from the consequences of the previous insurrections they had cheered on.
One praiseworthy exception was Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan, who did call out the subsequent repression by Marxist regimes whose ascents he had welcomed. Unfortunately, he seemed to treat each such repression—no matter how often the pattern repeated itself—as aberrational, rather than endemic to Marxist revolution.
Democratic reform is never the intent; it was clearly not Daniel Ortega’s, then or now.
Voted out of power in 1990, when he foolishly sought to legitimize his rule by agreeing to an internationally monitored election—something Communist revolutionaries never allow, and which Marx would never have countenanced—Ortega worked to reinvent himself. He mended fences with the Nicaraguan people and the Catholic Church, presenting himself as a reformed democratic reformer, who really meant it this time! After two more electoral defeats, he was finally returned to power, with only 38% of the vote, in 2006.
His commitment to democracy lasted only as long as it took for citizens to express disagreement—with certain Sandinista policies, perceived corruption of local elections, and overriding of constitutional limits on presidential terms so Ortega could run for re-election perpetually.
Then, in 2018, when protests against health and pension reforms were violently suppressed by police, Church leaders spoke out—again becoming “devils in cassocks” as Ortega had previously labeled them. Thus ensued—or continued—the repression of the Church by a Nicaraguan Marxist who had successfully disguised himself—twice now—as a friend of the poor, of democracy, and of the Church.
As a reporter for The Long Island Catholic during those earlier years of upheaval in Central America, I would often hear it observed that “everyone who speaks up for the poor gets labeled a Communist.”
That seemed plausible; except that virtually every national revolution on behalf of “the poor” did turn out to be a Communist insurgency, however well disguised until the insurgents seized power. Marxist revolutionaries have always thrived by exploiting very real injustices, and promising better; only to actually deliver worse once they are in control.
And western progressives, including well-meaning but sometimes naïve Catholic activists, have always been easily duped; those, that is, who are not actually sympathetic to Marxism.
Interviewing two local religious Sisters from Long Island back in the early 1990s, about their recent visit to El Salvador and their support for the FMLN “reformers” there, I asked them about a statement by the then-president of the Salvadoran Bishops’ Conference that the FMLN represented a Marxist philosophy.
“I refuse to see Marxism as an evil,” one of the Sisters responded. “Marxism doesn’t scare me.”
I suspect that the people of Nicaragua, living now for the second time under the same Marxist tyranny, would disagree.