Domingo Choc Che, who was a collaborator on a University College London (UCL) pharmaceutical project, was burnt alive on Saturday.
The government said it would launch an investigation after the incident sparked outrage and demands for justice for Mr Domingo as well as the Mayan community as a whole.
The UCL project is researching biodiversity use on Mayan medicine in Guatemala in partnership with Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, alongside the Council of Maya Elders, government authorities, Indigene Biodiversity and the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species.
Dr Michael Heinrich, who leads the project, told The Independent: “Losing a colleague or friend is always tragic, but losing Don Domingo, a great wise man and Mayan elder, with whom we collaborated on a project supported by the UK’s Darwin Initiative, is an incredible atrocity.
“We’re all speechless and words cannot express our sadness and fury. He was such an important facilitator, supporting the local development of resources and planning for ways to improve the local livelihood. What an incredible loss for his family and friends, the people of the Peten and all of us!”
“The murder of Domingo Choc, in San Luis Peten, Guatemala, is an act of barbarism,” said Olinda Salguero, a prominent activist in Guatemala.
“The community burned him alive, in front of many, accusing him of being a witch. All involved must face justice.”
According to local newspaper La Hora, the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) in Guatemala has opened an investigation.
“The PDH condemns and repudiates the violent acts that blinded the life of Mr Domingo Choc Che, an expert in natural medicine, committed to preserving and transmitting his ancestral knowledge,” a PDH statement said.
Local journalist Jody Garcia reported the Public Ministry in Chimay announced that the Municipal Prosecutor’s Office will also launch an investigation into the incident, in coordination with the Peten District Prosecutor.
Violent crime in Guatemala is a major issue, and the country has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
The Mayan community has suffered a massive loss of life under country’s military government – some 200,000 indigenous people were killed during the civil war and 626 massacre sites have been identified.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies