INDIGENOUS RIGHTS LEADER IN COSTA RICA
We take a break from our season on journalists to look at the case of Sergio Rojas. He was killed in his home in the territory of Salitre in March, 2019, amid ongoing land rights disputes between native peoples and non-indigenous farmers in the Térraba River region in southern Costa Rica.
Rojas was a leader of his own Bribri people, as well as being a leading figure in the wider indigenous rights movement. For many years he had been at the forefront of the struggle to reclaim traditional tribal lands that have been lost over the course of decades of encroachment by non-indigenous farmers.
Despite a 1977 law that was supposed to guarantee that tribal lands were preserved for indigenous people, the majority of these lands remain in the possession of non-native farmers. These farmers claim to have purchased the land legitimately, and they do not want to leave. The 1977 law did not make provision for compensation for the non-indigenous farmers, and many simply could not afford to quit the land, even if they wanted to.
In addition, the Térraba River is being polluted by pesticide and fertilizer run-off from large-scale pineapple plantations, and a proposed (currently suspended) hydroelectric dam could flood a large area, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of people and the loss of important natural and historic sites.
Police believe that Sergio Rojas was murdered, but as of writing no-one has been charged. However, many in the indigenous communities and their supporters believe that Rojas was assassinated because of his role opposing the loss of tribal lands.
The killing of Rojas was brought to our attention by Russell Davis. He was working with indigenous groups in the area at the time, and he reached out to us in an effort to raise awareness about the murder, as well as the broader land rights issues in the country. We spoke with Russell via Skype to get his insights into the situation, and the interview is included in the episode.