Brazil’s Lula calls on Nicaragua’s Ortega to show ‘courage’ and release jailed bishop

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has said he will he would personally lobby Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega to release a bishop who has been imprisoned in the Central American state.

Speaking to reporters a day after meeting Pope Francis, Mr Lula said the Nicaraguan president should have “the courage” to recognise that a mistake had been made. “These things are not always easy because not everyone is big enough to apologise.”

Bishop Rolando Alvarez, a vocal critic of Mr Ortega, was sentenced to more than 26 years in prison in Nicaragua in February on charges that included treason, undermining national integrity and spreading false news.

Bishop Alvarez has been one of the most outspoken religious figures still in Nicaragua as Mr Ortega intensified his repression of the opposition. The church is essentially the last independent institution trusted by a large portion of Nicaraguans, and that makes it a threat to Mr Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

“I intend to speak with Daniel Ortega about this to release the bishop. There is no reason for the bishop to be prevented from exercising his function in the Church,” Mr Lula said.

Nicaraguan Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez at the Santo Cristo de Esquipulas church in Managu

(AFP via Getty Images)

It was not clear if the pontiff had asked Mr Lula to intervene and seek to alleviate the most acute crisis the Roman Catholic Church faces in Latin America.

“The only thing the Church wants is for Nicaragua to free them,” Mr Lula said, referring to Bishop Alvarez and a number of detained priests.

While Brazil and Nicaragua have good relations, ties between the Vatican and the Central American state have been severely strained following a crackdown on anti-government protests in 2018, when the Church acted as a mediator between both sides.

Mr Ortega called the protests an attempted coup against his government. The Church had called for justice for more than 360 people who died during the unrest.

Bishop Alvazez was convicted after he refused to leave the country along with 200 political prisoners released by Mr Ortega’s government and sent to the United States.


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