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On June 30th an unidentified black helicopter landed near Alto Cuen, a Bribri indigenous community of Talamanca in Costa Rica. The aircraft stayed in the area until 4th July, while purported “missionaries” suspiciously toured around the indigenous communities doing land surveying.
Eight persons dressed in military uniforms travelled in the helicopter claiming to be “evangelist missionaries” and handing out free Bibles. The paramilitaries introduced themselves as Alejandro Cetrulo, Rodolfo Ortíz, Roque Revilla Candiotti, Isaías Romero Acuña, Travis Reid, Brian Bucek, Nual Richardson and Josh Hyatt. It was later learned that they were a Peruvian citizen, two Costa Ricans and five Canadians.
According to accounts by the residents of Alto Cuen, these people, who claimed to be evangelists, behaved in a very strange way and they were carrying very sophisticated mountain gear, GPS, photo cameras, altitude measurement equipment, weapons, land surveying materials, metal detectors and radars.
The purported evangelists were dressed in military uniforms and were armed, as shown in the picture provided by the local residents.
They had military training and were trained to survive in the mountain. The indigenous reported that they refused to drink water from the river, but they would take it from the bamboo plants and they managed to hunt a snake and ate it. The indigenous asked the purported missionaries to make prayers, which they couldn’t, showing they were not really evangelists.
Alarmed by the situation, the local residents called Bribri’s Attorney’s office, so they went to Alto Cuen. Two law enforcement officers arrived in the missionary camp and did not find them there. The officials under the orders of the Attorney’ office, seized their passports and some weapons like knives and a gun, and left the community at the mercy of paramilitaries.
Later, the community received a violent threat by the purported missionaries, who aimed at the indigenuos with guns and demanded the articles seized by the police. Meanwhile, another missionary was at the camp site holding a gun and shouting “if the police is back we will shoot you”.
According to the local residents’ account the paramilitaries said they would be back.
On July 13th, a delegation of over 15 indigenous of Talamanca walked for five hours to get to Alto Cuen and express their solidarity with the community.
The delegation was made up by people from the communities of Alto Uren, Arenal, Melëruk, T’suri and kachabli. When they arrived at the place they were welcomed by the community of Alto Cuen to hold an briefing assembly.
They talked about the incidents and the concerns caused by the intrusion of the purported missionaries. The members of the delegation said they believed the intrusion was a violation to the indigenous right to self-determination and to their territorial sovereignty.
There is suspicion about the aim of the visit of the mysterious helicopter. They relate it
to drug trafficking or with people paid by Canadian mining corporations who were involved in environmental espionage.
The indigenous communities are exposing the lack of government action in investigating and clarifying the incidents.
“Las mujeres somos quienes mantenemos la esperanza. Y creo que en ese mantener la esperanza tenemos que contagiar a muchas otras mujeres y decirles que se atrevan, que salgan, que levanten la voz, que no les dé miedo hablar. (…) Hay miedos que se nos han creado a las mujeres dentro de nuestros entornos sociales y culturales. (…) Cargamos la manta del miedo en un momento que nos llega, pero luego nos quitamos la manta del miedo, y seguimos con la manta de la esperanza”. Jakeline Romero Epiayu.
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