Costa Rican Man Sentenced to 22 Years for Murder of Indigenous Leader

Murdered indigenous leader Yehry Rivera

A man has been sentenced to 22 years in prison in Costa Rica for the murder of an Indigenous land rights activist in 2020, in a case that inflamed decades-old tensions between indigenous people and farmers over contested territory.

Yehry Rivera, a leader of the indigenous Brörán people, was shot and killed by Juan Varela, a farmer, during a land dispute in the Terraba hamlet, 80 miles south-east of the capital San Jose in Puntarenas province.

In February 2020, Rivera, 45, was murdered after being approached by an armed mob of non-Indigenous residents after a series of violence against Indigenous activists attempting to recover their ancestral territory.

In August of last year, Varela told a neighborhood assembly amid cheers and acclaim, “I was the one who killed him,” His words were filmed and used as evidence in the prosecution.

Eight indigenous ethnic groups comprise around 2.4% of Costa Rica’s overall population. Indigenous tribes with historic ties to twenty-four legally recognised territories were granted land ownership by legislation in 1977.

However, the law has never been enforced.

Despite some success, the majority of territories continue to be held by non-Indigenous families and farmers, who claim ownership of grounds that their family have in some cases farmed for centuries.

As asserted by his attorneys, the judges in the Rivera case determined that Varela, who claimed to have Indigenous ancestry, did not act in self-defense. Varela may appeal his conviction.