A Bogotá traffic accident ends in a lynching by the Embera

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A 60-year-old driver, who was ending his night shift collecting garbage on the outskirts of Bogotá, accidentally hit a woman and child standing in the dark by the side of Siberia – Funza highway. The accident, in which 36-year-old Ermilda Tunay and her 21-month-old daughter Sara Tunay died – both members of the Embera indigenous tribe – would have been another statistic in Bogotá’s tragic traffic deaths, had it not been that the accident resulted in the murder of the driver.

Moments after Hildebrando Rivera realized that his truck had run-over a woman and child, he remained inside his vehicle, when he was surrounded by an angry mob who proceeded to smash the windscreen and beat him mercilessly with sticks, metal pipes and stones. Rivera managed in desperation to send a WhatsApp message to his family pleading for help, before ambulances and first responders arrived at the scene. “Oh my God, I’ve had an accident, they are going to destroy my truck,” he said.

“Oh my God, I’ve had an accident, they are going to destroy my truck”

As the accident occurred close to a temporary shelter housing members of the Embera community, many displaced by the conflict between FARC dissidents and ELN guerrilla in their ancestral territories, the perpetrators of the assault and incident in which Rivera later died from his wounds, belong to the Embera indigenous guard. Declarations by an indigenous leader Wednesday night justified the murder as an act of retributive justice sanctioned under their “indigenous law,” and alluded to the fact that the murderers are being protected by the community inside the UPI La Florida shelter.

As Bogotanos awoke to the news that an act of vigilante justice had occurred at the city’s western limits, Mayor Claudia López’s first reaction on social media was to extend her condolences to both the families of the Embera and driver who “accidentally hit a woman and her child.” Mayor López then proceeded to blame the Ministry of Defense for not guaranteeing the safe return of the Embera to their territories, stating “no more excuses, no more delays.” López’s evident disdain of the national government came through in her tweets, and which overshadowed the lynching by claiming “no one has the right to avenge a death by killing another.”

Bogotá’s Chief of Cabinet Luis Ernesto Gómez was more forthright than the Mayor, directly condemning the murder, stating that “there is no retributive justice system for ethnic groups to permit homicide,” confirming also, that the country’s Attorney General’s Office has opened a formal investigation. According to legal experts, when crimes are committed outside indigenous jurisdictions, the country’s legal code takes precedence.

Indigenous law applies only to resolving certain feuds or criminal acts committed within a defined by territorial boundary. According to Bogotá’s Security Secretariat Aníbal Fernández de Soto, the tragedy that unfolded on a Bogotá highway can be attributed, in part, to “growing intolerance and social conflicts, since the start of the pandemic.” Fernández de Soto also highlighted that authorities should proceed with the investigation to clarify the facts and “punish those responsible.”

The Embera have been a flash point of social discord in Bogotá when they occupied the capital’s National Park, living in squalid conditions and which resulted in the death of a minor from malnutrition last November.

The Embera camp in Bogotá’s National Park.