Guatemala is the land of Eternal Springs and the home of the richly cultured and
historic Mayan people. It it also the country of Rigoberta Menchu, an
illiterate farm worker, turned voice of oppressed people everywhere. Guatemala
also has the sad distinction of being home to Latin America's oldest civil war.
"For more than three decades, left-wing guerrillas have fought a series of
rightist governments in Guatemala. The war has killed an estimated 140,000 in
the country, which has 11 million people." (N.Y. Times June 14, 1996 pA4 col 2)
This is a story of a people in crisis, and one woman's struggle to use truth, as
a means of setting her people free.
The majority of the population are Indians, and much of the struggles arise out
of the ashes of the past. Spain conquered Guatemala in 1524, which was the
start of the oppression of the native people of Guatemala. Since this time the
native people have been ruled by the Spanish speaking minority, the Ladinos,
many of which are descended from the Spanish colonists.
Beginning in 1954, when Guatemala's elected government was overthrown by the
army, the military began a brutal war against the Indian people. This type of
torture and oppression continued, and during the 1970's the repression was
especially harsh; during this time more and more Indians began to resist. It
was during this time that Rigoberta Menchu's family became involved in the
The situation in Guatemala is similar to South Africa, where the black majority
are ruled with absolute power by the white minority. Like South Africa, the
Indians in Guatemala are lacking in even the most basic of human rights.
"Indeed the so-called forest Indians are being systematically exterminated in
the name of progress. But unlike the Indian rebels of the past, who wanted to
go back to pre-Columbian times, Rigoberta Menchu is not fighting in the name of
an idealized or mythical past." (Menchu xiii) Rigoberta is working toward
drawing attention to the plight of native people around the globe.
Once an illiterate farm worker, she has taught herself to read and write Spanish,
the language of her oppressor, as a means of relating her story to the world.
She tells the story of her life with honesty and integrity in hopes of
impressing upon the world the indignation of the oppressed. In additi...
... middle of paper ...
...She has been accused of supporting the country's
leftist actions and harming Guatemala's image abroad.
In awarding the prize, the Nobel committee wanted to draw attention to the
plight of Guatemala's Indians in the hope that it would lead to improved
conditions. Recently, Guatemalans have found cause for that hope, as a peace
accord is due to be signed in January 1997, ending the fighting between the
rebels and the government. In addition, a truth commission has been formed to
help families of disappeared members find answers relating to their deaths, by
uncovering the country's many unmarked mass graves. Rigoberta Menchu continues
to live in exile under death threghts upon her return to Guatemala. She is well
adapted to the life which has been handed down to her, by generations of poor
and oppressed Indians. Yet when she speaks, she speaks of her beautiful culture,
and of the many joys that her family had over the years, all without a trace of
bitterness in her voice.
Menchu, Rigoberta. I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman In Guatemala. London:
"Guatemalans Take New Step Toward Peace." The New York Times 14 June 1996,
pA4 col 2
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