Juan Varela Rojas was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the murder of Brörán de Térraba indigenous leader Jehry Rivera in February 2020.
The Pérez Zeledón Court of Justice found Varela Rojas guilty and convicted of murder and aggravated threats to the detriment of Melissa Garbanzo, a witness for the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the family.
In addition, the court ordered the accused to be remanded in custody, as requested by the plaintiff, considering that he is liable to abscond.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office and the plaintiff had requested a sentence of 39 years in prison. Meanwhile, the defense argued that the murder of the indigenous leader was in self-defense.
Rivera’s murder trial began on January 23 and ended on February 1. Jehry Rivera was assassinated on February 24, 2020, when he was leading the process of territorial recovery by the Brörán community.
The assassination of the indigenous leader was executed during an attack by a mob of 150 non-indigenous and allied people who, since February 23, 2020, had harassed and threatened the Bröran People.
According to the indictment, three unidentified persons held Rivera, and, taking advantage of his vulnerable state, Varela, an indigenous Boruca, used a firearm and shot the victim twice. The gunshots resulted in Rivera’s death.
In August 2022, the main suspect confessed to the murder at a meeting between the Inter-Institutional Technical Committee for the Attention of Indigenous Affairs of the Ministry of Justice and the Multiethnic and Pluricultural Association of the area, held at the Rogelio Fernandez School in Buenos Aires, Puntarenas.
“In the Legislative Assembly, they have talked a lot about the case of Yehry Rivera. I don’t know if you know: I was the one who killed him. I want you to understand why I killed him. I am an indigenous Boruca. Why did it happen? Rivera and thirteen other guys were going to burn my house with Molotov bombs; that’s why I did it. When my brother arrived to help me, he grabbed him with a knife. I told him to let go, but he did not and instead came at me; that is why I had to do it,” stated Varela.
The indigenous community and the family members cried out for justice and were deeply saddened by what had happened.
“My son died defending the legal right to the indigenous lands that, as an indigenous territory, belong to us in the territory of Térraba and all the other territories. It has been horrible for us and for everyone to lose a companion, a fighter, dedicated to defending our rights,” said Digna Rivera, Jehry’s mother.