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Another Bribri Land Defender Shot in Costa Rica

Photo: Mainor Ortiz Delgado's home, damaged by in December 2018 by the family of the shooter. Courtesy of Forest Peoples Programme

By John McPhaul

Mainor Ortiz Delgado, a member of the Indigenous Bribri Tubolwak clan, was shot in the leg by a trespasser on February 9, 2020, on his farm in Rio Azul de Salitre in southwestern Costa Rica. This act of is part of an ongoing wave of violence spurring from the Costa Rican government’s failure to implement Indigenous land rights and bring sanctions on non-Indigenous settlers on Indigenous land. It  comes almost one year after the murder of another Indigenous rights defender, Sergio Rojas, in March 2019, whose murder has not been resolved.

“What did Mainor do to provoke this attack? Nothing. He was only working on his farm with his brother, his wife and their three children,” said Indigenous organization Ditso Iriria Ajkonuk Wakpa. “While he was working, without provocation, a non-Indigenous person passed by on a motorcycle and fired at him.”

Ditso identified the assailant as Eliodoro Figueroa Uva, who is not Bribri, who has trespassed on the land of Silvia Rojas Delgado located in Rio Azul de Salitre." Figueroa Uva  was initially arrested by authorities, but was later released within 24 hours, and ordered not to intimidate Ortiz or his family and to stay at least 100 meters away from him, according to Vanessa Jimenez, an attorney from the Forest Peoples Programme which advocates for Indigenous Peoples in Costa Rica.  

Indigenous organizations reject the decision to free Figueroa Uva, considering it insufficient and negligent since Mainor Ortiz and his family have to pass the land allegedly usurped by Figueroa Uva, and since this incident is not the first time Ortiz Delgado and his family have been victimized by non-Indigenous settlers.

“This attack comes as the Bribri strive to defend their territories. Over 50% of their ancestral land is now illegally occupied by non-indigenous people who are regularly hostile to the Bribri. There have been dozens of documented cases of violence and threats against the Bribri and their indigenous neighbors the Brörán people of Térraba, all of which continue with impunity,” said the Forest People’s Programme in press release. “Despite the decision of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to issue Precautionary Measures in 2015 calling on the Costa Rican government to protect the lives and physical integrity of the Bribri and Brörán, the Government has failed to implement sufficient measures to do so.”

Even though a 1977 law set aside lands for Indigenous Peoples, much of the lands are occupied by non-Indigenous settlers, some of whom have not been compensated by the state, while others have squatted on the land with nothing more than a bill of sale to back their claims.

According to Ditso, the assailant in the recent shooting belongs to a family who has laid claim to land and carries a certificate identifying him as Indigenous from an organization that a Costa Rican court has already ruled illegitimate. 

Mainor's home, destroyed in 2018 by members of the shooter's family.

In 2013, 10 settlers attacked Ortiz Delgado with a machete in his left ear, leaving deep lacerations, and tortured him with a branding iron and shooting him in the left thigh. A Costa Rican court found that not enough evidence existed to “individualize the guilty party” though Ortiz Delgado was able to identify them.

In 2016, unknown assailants shot at Ortiz Delgado’s house. Delgado Ortiz received threatening telephone calls saying that “I know who you are, at any moment we are going to take you out with bullets. Stop acting like a man.” Ortiz Delgado gave the callers’ telephone numbers to authorities, who took no action.

“They want to kill my son and the government knows of the precarious situation, but they don’t do anything significant or effective to protect him. I’m afraid he’s going to end up like Sergio,” said Ortiz Delgado’s mother, Mariana Delgado Morales, referring to the murder of Bribri land defender Sergio Rojas Ortiz, killed on March 19, 2019.

In 2010, Rojas Ortiz began a campaign to recover ancestral land belonging to the Bribri in the southwest region of Telire. The murder of Rojas took place despite the fact that the Intern-American Commission on Human Rights had ordered the Costa Rican State to take precautionary measures to protect his Indigenous community.

“The life led by Mainor Delgado is a story that is symbolic of the tragic situation of the Bribri people, and other peoples in Costa Rica as a result of action from the government,” said Ditso.  “The Government has to do at least four things: (i) punish those that attack us and end the impunity, (ii) protect our human rights defenders in an effective way, (iii) not abandon us to the courts but rather implement their duties and obligations without delay, and (iv) evict with priority the illegal occupants –now and not years from now,” says Lesner Figuero Lázaro, Bribri of the Tuadiwak clan and Coordinator of the Concejo.

Cultural Survival echoes the call of the Consejo Ditsö Iriria Ajkönuk Wakpa of the Bribri territory in urging the Costa Rican government to fulfill their obligation to protect Indigenous Peoples rights in Costa Rica. We reiterate our calls to Costa Rica to fully investigate and bring justice to all acts of violence against Indigenous land defenders, in accordance with the domestic and international law, and to take immediate steps to remove non-Indigenous settlers on Indigenous titled land.