Exile or twenty-six years in jail: two months ago, Msgr. Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, the bishop of the Nicaraguan city of Matagalpa, faced that choice. He chose jail. Daniel Ortega, co-dictator of Nicaragua, was angered by the bishop’s decision. Ortega hadn’t considered the possibility that any of the 223 political prisoners he had chosen to deport would instead decide to stay.
Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, rule Nicaragua by decree. Their party, the Sandinistas, was once a revolutionary force; today, it is a vehicle for the ruling couple’s cruelty. Msgr. Álvarez’s choice amounted to an act of rebellion, even if it meant that he would remain under the dictators’ control. A quick trial was arranged, and a corrupt judge read the charges: “Betrayal of the homeland,” “undermining national integrity,” and “spreading fake news.”
During the trial, an agitated Ortega called the bishop’s choice “absurd” and accused him of pride and, incredibly, of having chosen the more comfortable path. “He has been treated amazingly well,” Ortega said. “I was in prison for seven years and I have never met…a prisoner who was treated in such a way.” It’s true that Álvarez has been spared El Chipote, an infamous jail where political prisoners sleep on concrete slabs, starve for weeks at a time, and are locked in dark rooms. But La Modelo, the fifty-year-old prison where the bishop is currently detained, is only a little better. One report describes it as having “obsolete plumbing”; its inmates are often deprived of shoes and soap and live on a diet of rice and beans.