The Bribris are a native people of about 11,500 in total, established in Costa Rica for centuries, some think for 5,000 years. They live on the Indian reserves of Salitre and Cabagra and speak the only indigenous language of Costa Rica taught at the university.
They practice a form of religion related to shamanism and their beliefs are based on the worship of Sibú, “God the Father”, creator of the Earth and Man, and the god of culture, as he teaches which products to eat and how to plant them. Their habitat consists of wooden houses on stilts, covered with dried palms. Their main characteristic is certainly a spirit of independence and resilience. They live very far away from other human groups and move by boats and rafts on the Sixaola River on the border with Panama.
They produce handicrafts, baskets and musical instruments found throughout the country. Hunting remains their main activity, but they respect strict rules of consumption. When hunting a quetzal or a scarlet macaw, for example, only the elderly can eat it. Their agriculture is traditional and turned to bananas, maize and some tubers; but cocoa is their key element. It is used for therapeutic purposes, body cleansing and as a staple food. Women, men, shamans, young or old, all know the recipes, know how to cultivate it and use it wisely.
The Costa Rica law prohibits non-natives from entering, staying and possessing indigenous peoples’ lands (Law 6172 of 1977). However, Bribris Indigenous People are now violently deprived of their Ancestral Land. On the days of 25-26 December, they were subjected to violence and threats on their territory of Salitre by a group of non-native gunmen who set fire to their houses and properties, forcing them to flee to the mountains. The usurpers keep sending out threats not to return to their houses and to leave their properties. These cases of violence have been occurring for six years during the Christmas holidays.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has stated that preventive measures must be taken (MC-321-12 IACHR) and ordered the State of Costa Rica to protect them. The Office of the Presidency of the Country informed the National Committee for Support to Indigenous Autonomy, and issued orders and instructions to prevent further violence and arrest the perpetrators. But, to date, none of the attackers has been arrested. The police are alleged to be hand in gloves with the usurpers and are slow to act, and, while tensions in the lands of the community of Río Azul continue, there is no permanent presence of the Public Forces to ensure peace and security. Peaceful as they are, the Bribris decided to expel the usurpers and recover their land. There is, therefore, a chance that more violence will erupt.
Advocacy aims policies and change, awareness and knowledge about bringing people with authority to take positions on issues of common interest, especially for the benefit of the marginalized and excluded from the political process; and the international community is called upon to intervene when a state does not assume its responsibility to defend its citizens and keep social peace. We saw the typical case with Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death in November 2010, accused of blasphemy against Islam. International pressure has secured her being released and found innocent of a crime she did not commit even though her case is not yet fully resolved. For native Bribris, what can be done?
An initiative has been launched to bring the international community to ask the Government of Costa Rica to act preventing further damage, to protect and promote all human rights for the natives. The initiative is to send an e-mail to the Costa Rican Embassy of our own country and / or neighboring countries on this subject.
At this link are the addresses of the Embassy: https://www.costarica.com/embassy/. Sample letter: “Respected Ambassador of Costa Rica, We draw your attention to the assault on the indigenous Bribris people. It is alleged that on December 25, 2018, the non-indigenous people have assaulted the Bribris in Salitre Indigenous Territory with fire arms; set their house on fire and the families have fled to the mountains. This happens despite the presence of the law that forbids the non-indigenous people to enter, to remain and to possess the land of the indigenous people by Indigenous Law ( Law 6172 of 1977) and The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights(IACHR) that warrants Precautionary Measures (MC-321-12 CIDH).
John Paul Pezzi, mccj
VIVAT International NGO,
with consultative special status at UN