In Chapter 9 of The Violence of
Development website we try to represent the scale and nature of the threat of
violence suffered by Central American people. Undoubtedly, out of the seven
Central American countries, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador feature more frequently
than the other four, but the following report of the assassination of Costa
Rican indigenous leader Jehry Rivera makes it clear that rights activists
throughout all the Central American nations are vulnerable as targets if they try
to defend their rights and object against the interests of the powerful.
Rivera Rivera (shown right), an indigenous leader from Térraba in southern
Costa Rica, was shot dead in February this year. His murder shocked Costa Rica
and is associated with land disputes between the Terribe indigenous people and
land owners. The Terribe were occupying and reclaiming land used by ranchers.
assassination took place in an area in which the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights (IACHR) had issued protective measures for the indigenous population as
a result of the constant threats they had been receiving from land owners who
were seeking to appropriate their territory.
assassination occurred almost a year after the attack on another Costa Rican indigenous
leader, Sergio Rojas, who was also killed by hitmen despite protective measures
that had been issued for him.
Costa Rican Federation for Environmental Conservation (FECON) suggested that
crime against the indigenous rights defender Jehry Rivera splashes with blood
the hypocrisy of the Costa Rican state, which claims to protect human rights,
but its policies leave all indigenous peoples abandoned and forgotten. Although
Costa Rican legislation recognises these lands as part of the indigenous
territories, governments do not apply the law. They protect the interests of
rights defenders also criticised the Costa Rican corporate media for its
negative reports on land recoveries carried out by indigenous peoples. The
media ignore the fact that companies have been invading and appropriating
indigenous territories for years. Many journalists even encourage violence
against those attempting to recover their land.
of the affected communities claimed that the inaction of the government enabled
the violence and gives impunity to those committing the violence.
contacts in the village of Longo Maï in the south of Costa Rica have provided
us with some background information on indigenous issues in Costa Rica related
to this case and this was translated for us from the original German by Kerstin
peoples make up about 2 per cent of the Costa Rican population (approximately
100,000 people) and there are 24 indigenous territories and 8 indigenous ethnic
groups in the country.
biggest problems in these territories are caused by megaprojects such as
hydroelectric dams. In the south, invasions of indigenous territories have been
particularly common: for instance, 88 per cent of the Terribe’s territory is
not occupied by the Terribe. In the China Kicha territory (which is very close
to Longo Maï) this loss of land is even higher (97 per cent). Yet in 1977 a law
was passed making it illegal to sell land in these territories, and this was
reinforced by the United Nations ILO 169 declaration that was signed by Costa
the last 40 years, however, practically all Costa Rican governments have failed
to enforce the legal measures to ensure indigenous autonomy. In the last ten
years indigenous peoples have therefore taken matters increasingly into their
own hands to reclaim lands. In March 2019, one of their activists, Sergio
Rojas, was killed by twelve bullets. A few days ago, Jehry Rivera was murdered
the following statement from the village supports the views expressed above by
Costa Rican rights defenders.
is proof of institutionalist racism, a relic of colonialism, and an
unbelievably cynical discourse which presents this country as an ecologist’s
paradise to the outside world while failing to seriously protect ethnic groups
who follow a model of ecologically sound agricultural practices and ‘buen
25 February 2020, ‘Costa Rica: Jehry Rivera Dies While Defending Indigenous
27 February 2020, ‘Costa Rican Indigenous Denounce Government Inaction
Rundschau, February 2020, ‘Indigenous activist murdered in Costa Rica’.
Spendlingwimmer, 27 February 2020, personal communication.
Delfino.cr, February 2020, Untitled news release.