Mayan medicine expert killed in Guatemala

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A Guatemalan man shown running while on fire in video circulating via social media was a well-known Mayan spitirtual guide and natural medicine expert who was tortured and killed, accused of witchcraft by his attackers, authorities said Monday.

On Saturday night, a group of men went to the home of 55-year-old Domingo Choc in Chimay, San Luis Peten. They accused him of practicing witchcraft on a relative’s grave. He was tortured for more than 10 hours. “They were beating him all night,” said Yulma Rojas, the prosecutor handling the case. “In the morning they sprayed him with gasoline and set him on fire.”

In the video, a man engulfed in flames is running, asking for help. No one tries to help. After some minutes he fell to the ground and died.

Mónica Berger, a medical anthropologist at the University of the Valley of Guatemala who knew Choc well, said he was a Mayan scientist known as “Grandfather Domingo.” He was a member of the Association of Councils of Spiritual Guides Releb’aal Saq’e’, with whom he worked on natural medicine.

The prosecutor’s office said it has requested seven arrest warrants for the suspects. At least five are members of the same family, another is a man who allegedly told the family Choc was doing witchcraft at their relative’s grave.

Berger said Choc had participated in a number of scientific research projects about Mayan natural medicine that yielded papers and books in collaboration with universities in England and Switzerland.

Choc was an ajilonel, a Mayan medical specialist, a type of expert therapist in natural medicine, Berger said. He had been doing walks through the forest researching natural medicine, “but for the coronavirus they suspended the walks and the fieldwork.”

“Killing him is like having burned a library,” said a tearful Berger. “It’s an enormous loss.”

She said she hoped those responsible would be punished to send a message “that herbalists are not witches.” Other Mayan spiritual guides and herbalists in the community now fear for their lives, she said.