Indigenous groups rebut the statements of Carlos Alvarado at COP-26

Further to our round-up of Central America COP-26 related news and issues – see previous article uploaded in November 2021 – on 5th November the Costa Rican weekly newspaper Semanario Universidad included an article by Vinicio Chacón on the difference between Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado’s speech at the COP-26 conference and the reality experienced by Indigenous peoples in that country. We are grateful to Vinicio for his permission to include the article and its translation in The Violence of Development website.

By Vinicio Chacón | 5 November 2021,  Semanario Universidad, San José, Costa Rica

(English translation by Martin Mowforth)


Aggressions remembered, many assassinations and failures to implement land rights – after the leader’s speech at the global summit.

“The President says that he recognises that we look after the forests; there should be no killings of those who defend their land …”, said one activist identified as Lesner, a Bribri land recoverer of the Tuádiwak clan in the Salitre territory.

His striking words were repeated by the Coordinating Organisation of the South-South Struggle (CLSS by its Spanish initials) in a communication countering and examining the actual actions of President Carlos Alvarado against his words in Glasgow, Scotland, at the global summit on climate change, COP-26.

During one forum titled ‘Forests and Use of Soils’, Alvarado claimed that “the best guardians of the forests and the earth are the Indigenous Peoples”, at the same time he was projecting the Programme of Payment for Environmental Services (PSA by its Spanish initials) as a mechanism for forest conservation.

In this regard, the Indigenous and campesino organisations which make up the CLSS noted a mismatch between what Alvarado said, in the first place because the State “has not been able and has not had the political will to guarantee the life and personal integrity of the First Peoples” as witness “the 18th March 2019 assassination for political motives of Sergio Rojas Ortiz, a Uniwak of the Bribri People of Salitre and the 24th February 2020 assassination of Jerhy Rivera Rivera of the Brörán People of Térraba.” In effect, these were two assassinations in less than one year of “brothers who were assassinated for defending their lands and Peoples.”

At the same time, the CLSS published a report on the attacks against and violations of the human rights of the First Peoples in the Southern Zone of Costa Rica which denounced that during 2020 there were 14 death threats made against activists and human rights defenders of the First Peoples of the Southern Zone.

That is only one small element of the 86 incidents documented in the report and which remain in impunity.


Pending Debt

The CLSS emphasised that in the Indigenous territories of the Southern Zone an illegal occupation is maintained with 40 per cent of their territories held by non-Indigenous peoples, and in some cases this reaches 75 per cent.

With respect to the issue of land delineation, the CLSS noted that the Recovery Plan for Indigenous Territories (PRTI by its Spanish initials) initiated by the government in 2017 has not materialised with “not one single defined land area”, with the exception of two fincas [small farms] in Salitre which had already been recovered by the appropriate Indigenous Peoples but which “against the will of the People” were delivered to the Association of Indigenous Development.

It’s worth recalling that these development associations are organisations which were imposed on Indigenous Peoples by the State, but they do not correspond to their cultural or historic traditions, while the recognised organisation in Bribri territory is the Ditsö Itiria Ajkönuk Wakpa.

The CLSS also denounced that the State has been incapable of devolving the lands prioritized by the Original Peoples’ own organisations, specifically eight territories in Salitre, 13 in Cabagra and 17 in Térraba. Moreover, during 2020 and 2021 three judicial decisions ordered the eviction of Cabécar people from China Kichá and one decision relating to the eviction of the Brörán people of Térraba who appealed in time, but three of them are still under “the danger and threat of judicial eviction”.

The CLSS referred to the PSA and emphasised Alvarado’s omission that these payments are managed and administered by the above-mentioned Indigenous Development Associations, which as already mentioned are not considered as their own organisations but rather are seen as being imposed by the State on these communities. “Neither did Alvarado make note of the many denunciations and judicial procedures against the irregular management of funds from the PSA and the little real participation of the communities and owners of these forests in the decisions and economic benefits,” said the CLSS communication.

One unidentified woman, a land recoverer in the area of Crun Shurin in the Térraba territory of the Brörán People, observed that to be “a protector of the forests”, as Alvarado called them, “has cost us two assassinated First Peoples rights defenders, and many more of us cannot even sleep at peace at night along with our families because of the land owners’ threats. We are the forest protectors, but we face the powers of the State against our rights.”

Thus she asserted that “the world should not be listening to these lies by President Carlos Alvarado because our struggles are very unequal and as Indigenous women we suffer all manner of abuses for continuing to conserve our Mother Earth from the ravages of the transnational companies with their extractive projects.”

“Our struggle will continue to defend our lands which belong to all of us; Forests, Water, Air, Spirituality, Culture, and Autonomy; despite the threats we receive and despite the fact that President Alvarado lies in international summits,” she added.

For his part, Lesner also accused the President and said: “We are not protectors of our lands; we are part of the earth and we look after it in an intuitive and natural way. She looks after us and we look after her; for us the forest is a living being as are the other elements which make up the earth.”

He added that: “we don’t need money to look after our forests and our lands, because when we are offered money to look after the forest and the land, the sense of living in equilibrium is lost and we start looking after only money. Our cosmovision tells us how we must live with our forest and lands. Paying for it distorts this manner of living with it.”