ROME – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega expelled the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Mother Teresa of Kolkata, and closed two Catholic TV stations as he continued his campaign to end any form of real or perceived opposition to his regime.

The announcement confirming the closure of all their activities came June 28, as the government of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, announced they were closing another 101 NGOs “urgently.”

Since a civil uprising of April 2018, the government has cracked down on voices of opposition. To date, there are 150 opposition leaders in prison, including all those who had expressed a willingness to run for the presidency last year. The regime has also canceled the legal status of 758 NGOs, including 42 foreign organizations.

The Missionaries of Charity arrived in Nicaragua in 1988, under the first Ortega administration (1979-1990) and following a visit to the Central American nation by Mother Teresa of Kolkata. The nuns run the Immaculate Heart of Mary Home in the city of Granada, where they take in abandoned or abused adolescents and help them reintegrate into life.

They also run a home for the elderly in Managua, the capital city; a school reinforcement project for at-risk students; and a day care center for impoverished families. As has been the case with hundreds of other charitable enterprises closed by the regime, the state is providing the thousands of vulnerable people who benefit from the sister’s activities with an alternative place to stay or get aid.

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In an attempt to justify the closure of the Missionaries of Charity activities, the government is accusing the group of “non-compliance” with the law against terrorism, arguing they have “failed to comply with their obligations.” The state argues that since the ministries are not accredited by the Ministry of Family, they are violating the Law Against Laundering Assets, the Financing of Terrorism and the Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (Law 977).

The government insists that the sisters did not report fixed assets, nor did they report the activities carried out in the city of Granada, and that their income from donations does not coincide with the reports submitted. In addition, the board of directors of the association the sisters have in Nicaragua is made up exclusively of foreigners. According to a new law that came into force two months ago, only 25 percent of its members can be from outside Nicaragua.

Many came to their defense, including Bishop Silvio Baez, who has been living in exile in Miami since 2019.

“I am very sad that the dictatorship has forced the Missionaries of Charity of Teresa of Calcutta to leave the country,” he said on Twitter Wednesday. “Nothing justifies depriving the poor of charitable care. I am a witness to the loving service the sisters rendered. God bless them.”

Catholic news, banned

On the same day the Missionaries of Charity were expelled, June 28, the government ordered the closure of two Catholic channels, Tv Merced, from the dioceses of Matagalpa and Jinotega, which first went on air eight years ago, and Tv San José, from the diocese of Estelí, founded 12 years ago by Monsignor Juan Abelardo Mata, arguably the prelate most threatened by the regime.

“Any human institution formed by us sinners would have disappeared long ago, but it has not disappeared because it is Christ who sustains it,” Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Matagalpa said Wednesday. “The church has gone through difficult times in its history, it has gone through times of darkness. But even in the most difficult moments, in the hardest moments, even in the cruelest moments, the church has sustained itself because it belongs to Christ.”

A priest in prison for having a knife in his home

Last week, Father Manuel García – a critic of the Ortega regime – became the first Catholic priest put on trial and imprisoned in Nicaragua since the 2018 crisis began.

In May, a video of García wielding a knife within his parish’s property as a dozen or so people shouted and threw stones at him was posted on the internet. The next day, a woman went to pro-government media, claiming they were defending her, accusing the priest of physically attacking her in an attempt to break off an alleged romantic relationship. The priest was arrested pending trial.

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By the time of the trial, the woman had retracted her accusations, saying that it had all been a misunderstanding. The police opened an investigation against her for false testimony. She was sentenced to five years in jail, while the priest was sentenced to two years.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma