New Light of God (Nueva Luz de Dios)

A remote cult that ritualistically murdered six children as human sacrifices


The makeshift church where the massacre took place (via The Guardian)

In the dense rainforests of Panama's Caribbean coast, nestled within the semi-autonomous indigenous region of the Ngäbe-Buglé comarca, lies the remote village of Alto Terrón. This community, steeped in poverty and largely forgotten by the state, became the center of a harrowing tale that unfolded over several months, culminating in a horrific event in January.

The story begins with the arrival of a religious sect called Nueva Luz de Dios, led by Mario González, who proclaimed himself the "messiah." González's sect gained influence in this isolated community, where traditional beliefs had been eroded by evangelical missions and other external forces.

Nueva Luz de Dios, active in the area for about three months before the tragedy, began conducting extreme religious rituals in the village. Under the guise of exorcisms and cleansing, these rituals rapidly descended into acts of violence and torture, as leaders used fear and claims of divine revelations to manipulate members and maintain control.

In January, the situation escalated dramatically. The sect members, including González's son, Obniel Gonzales Virola, 21, orchestrated a brutal ritual. They kidnapped and tortured about 15 people, including two pregnant women, in the Iglesia de Dios church. The victims were tied up, beaten with machetes, and had their tongues burned with hot embers in an attempt to "rid them of the devil."

After survivors arrived at a local hospital with signs of torture, police raided the church on January 14. They discovered the 15 victims in a state of extreme distress and found a shallow grave containing the bodies of other victims, including pregnant Bellin Flores, 33, and her five children, aged 1 to 17.

The discovery sent shockwaves through the region and beyond, drawing attention to the plight of the Ngäbe-Buglé people. Panama, despite its high GDP per capita, had largely ignored this community, where 96% of its 214,000 residents live in extreme poverty, with little access to education, healthcare, or law enforcement. The extreme isolation of Alto Terrón, with no police presence or healthcare facilities, exacerbated the tragedy. The nearest town, Río Luis, was an hour's hike and a two-hour canoe trip away, followed by a further two-and-a-half-hour drive to a hospital in the city of Santiago.

The incident prompted a reevaluation of the government's role in indigenous communities. In the aftermath, the Panamanian government, led by President Laurentino Cortizo, expressed deep sadness and promised to prioritize indigenous communities in development programs. However, skepticism remained about the state's commitment, given its history of neglect.

The tragedy at Alto Terrón is not just a story of religious extremism but also a stark reminder of the broader challenges facing indigenous communities in Latin America, such as the need for state support, protection of indigenous rights and cultures, and the balancing of traditional beliefs with modern influences. The events at Alto Terrón highlight the dangers of isolation, poverty, and the infusion of radical beliefs into vulnerable communities. As investigations continue, the community remains a symbol of the systemic issues facing indigenous populations and the urgent need for inclusive and sustainable development strategies.

Religion: Christianity

Denomination: Fundamentalism

Leader: Mario González

Founded: 2019

Ended: 2020

Location: Alto Terrón, Panama

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