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Indigenous leader killed, mutilated in Nicaragua

March 16, 2022 GMT

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A leader of an Indigenous community was killed in Nicaragua and his body mutilated, activists and community groups said Wednesday.

Environmentalist Amaru Ruiz, director of the Del Río Foundation, said Salomón López Smith had been missing for a week before his body was found Monday in the remote area of Pansunwás, in Matumbak territory.

López Smith, 52, was a leader of the Mayangna Indigenous community. Dozens of people from the Mayangna and Miskito communities have been killed in attacks in recent years that have been blamed on settlers who invaded Indigenous lands.

“His body showed signs of torture, which indicates it was a killing carried out with savagery, with hate, typical of the behavior of settlers,” Ruiz said.

López Smith was the first Indigenous leader killed in 2022, but at least 28 Indigenous leaders and community members have been killed in the region over the last two years, Ruiz said.

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The Indigenous Territorial Mayangna Government of Sauni Arungka said in a statement that López Smith’s body had been mutilated and tortured, with two shotgun wounds to the back, “which represents a hate crime.”

Ruiz said López Smith was “a leader with a lot of support in the community, who defended communal lands and promoted sports.”

The Nicaraguan army and national police did not immediately comment on the killing.

Several attacks in 2021 killed dozens of Miskito and Mayangna people around Bosawas, a protected area. The reserve has been hit by illegal mining and logging.

Indigenous activists say the government of President Daniel Ortega has not done enough to address the problems in the jungle-clad region, something his administration denied.

Activists say many of the settlers moving onto the lands are former soldiers linked to timber and illegal logging interests.

The Del Río Foundation says about 60% of the Mayangnas’ territory has been invaded by about 5,000 settlers since 2015, displacing some 3,000 indigenous inhabitants.