Sergio Rojas was a recognized leader of the National Front of Indigenous Peoples (FRENAPI for its acronym in Spanish).
At 9.15 pm on 18 March 2019, Sergio Rojas was murdered at his home in Salitre. According to witnesses, 15 shots were heard and police did not arrive until almost an hour and a half later, allowing the killers to escape. He was murdered hours after making a complaint to Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Organization (OIJ for its Spanish acronym) over a land dispute.
There are land disputes in the region between indigenous groups, who are protected by law, and non-indigenous people who assert that they have rights over some of these lands. This conflict has been ongoing for over 12 years. Indigenous people have decided to recover the land themselves, leaving themselves exposed to attack by non-indigenous people. Salitre and Térraba are areas where the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has granted protective measures due to the aggressions and violence that the indigenous people have experienced when defending their land.
Indigenous groups have denounced his murder saying, “This great Bribri defender had already been the victim of several murder attempts, persecution and he was jailed for political reasons for 6 months in 2015.”
In September 2015, in the context of escalating violence in this indigenous region, when asked if there was any possibility of recovering the land without escalating violence, Rojas stated:
“The only way depends on the Government: that they apply the law; if they don’t do so we will always have non-indigenous people encroaching on and usurping our land and when we assert our rights, there will be violence, because nobody wants to lose anything; the thief who steals doesn’t want to lose what he has stolen, he wants to be paid to return what he stole”.
The president Carlos Alvarado stated that the Government condemns and denounces the murder completely and added that the 18 of March was a sad day for Costa Rica. Avarado promised immediate action to find those responsible and to reinforce security in the region.
Representatives from different social organizations united in front of government buildings in a vigil on the night of 18 March to demand justice and that the murder of the indigenous leader does not go unpunished.