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Rigoberta Menchú Tum (Spanish: [riɣoˈβeɾta menˈtʃu]; born 9 January 1959) is a K'iche' political and human rights activist from Guatemala. Menchú has dedicated her life to publicizing the rights of Guatemala's indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), and to promoting indigenous rights internationally.
Menchú in 1998
Rigoberta Menchú Tum
9 January 1959
|Parent(s)||Juana Tum Kótoja|
Vicente Menchú Pérez
|Awards||Nobel Peace Prize in 1992|
Prince of Asturias Awards in 1998
Order of the Aztec Eagle in 2010.
|Website||Rigoberta Menchú Tum profile|
She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 and the Prince of Asturias Award in 1998, in addition to other prestigious awards. She is the subject of the testimonial biography I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983) and the author of the autobiographical work, Crossing Borders (1998), among other works. Menchú is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She ran for president of Guatemala in 2007 and 2011, having founded the country's first Indigenous political party, Winaq.
Rigoberta Menchú was born to a poor indigenous family of Q'iche' Maya descent in Laj Chimel, a rural area in the north-central Guatemalan province of El Quiché. Her family was one of many Indigenous families who could not sustain themselves on the small pieces of land they were left with after the Spanish conquest of Guatemala.
In 1979-80 her brother, Patrocinio, and her mother, Juana, were kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the Guatemalan army. Her father, Vicente, died in the 1980 Burning of the Spanish Embassy, which occurred after urban guerrillas took hostages and were attacked by government security forces. In January 2015, Pedro García Arredondo, a former police commander of the Guatemalan army, was convicted of attempted murder and crimes against humanity for his role in the embassy attack.
In 1981, Menchú was exiled and escaped to Mexico where she found refuge in the home of a Catholic bishop in Chiapas. A year later, in 1982, she narrated a book about her life, titled Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia (My Name is Rigoberta Menchú, and this is how my Awareness was Born), to Venezuelan author and anthropologist Elizabeth Burgos, which was translated into five other languages including English and French. The book made her an international icon at the time of the ongoing conflict in Guatemala.
In 1984, Menchú's other brother, Victor, was shot to death after he surrendered to the Guatemalan army, was threatened by soldiers, and tried to escape.
In 1995, Menchú married Ángel Canil, a Guatemalan. They have a son, Mash Nahual J’a ("Spirit of Water").
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After leaving school, Menchú worked as an activist campaigning against human rights violations committed by the Guatemalan armed forces during the country's civil war, which lasted from 1960 to 1996. After being exiled in 1981, Menchú continued to organize resistance to oppression in Guatemala and organize the struggle for indigenous rights by co-founding the United Republic of Guatemalan Opposition. Tens of thousands of people, mostly Mayan Indians, fled to Mexico from 1982 to 1984 at the height of Guatemala's 36-year civil war.
After the Guatemalan Civil War ended, Menchú campaigned to have Guatemalan political and military establishment members tried in Spanish courts. In 1999, she filed a complaint before a court in Spain because prosecutions of civil-war era crimes in Guatemala was practically impossible. These attempts stalled as the Spanish courts determined that the plaintiffs had not yet exhausted all possibilities of seeking justice through the legal system of Guatemala. On December 23, 2006, Spain called for the extradition of Guatemala of seven former members of Guatemala's government, including Efraín Ríos Montt and Óscar Mejía, on charges of genocide and torture. Spain's highest court ruled that cases of genocide committed abroad could be judged in Spain, even if no Spanish citizens were involved. In addition to the deaths of Spanish citizens, the most serious charges include genocide against the Maya people of Guatemala.
On February 12, 2007, Menchú announced that she would form an indigenous political party called Encuentro por Guatemala and that she would stand in the 2007 presidential election. She was the first Maya, Indigenous woman to ever run in a Guatemalan election. Had she been elected, she would have become Latin America's fourth indigenous president after Mexico's Benito Juárez, Peru's Alejandro Toledo and Bolivia's Evo Morales.
In the 2007 election, Menchú was defeated in the first round, receiving three percent of the vote.
In 2009, Menchú became involved in the newly founded party Winaq. Menchú was a candidate for the 2011 presidential election, but lost in the first round, winning three percent of the vote again. Although Menchú was not elected, Winaq succeeded in becoming the first Indigenous political party of Guatemala.
Menchú has become involved in the indigenous pharmaceutical industry as president of "Salud para Todos" ("Health for All") and the company "Farmacias Similares," with the goal of offering low-cost generic medicines. She has served as president of "Salud para Todos" since 2003 and has opened pharmacies all over Guatemala. As president of this organization, Menchú has received pushback from large pharmaceutical companies due to her desire to shorten the patent life of certain AIDS and cancer drugs and increase their availability and affordability.
Since 1996, Menchú has used her position as an UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador to attend various lectures and conferences, including giving a lecture on "Human Rights and Social Justice" at UCONN in 2012. In 2015, Menchú met with the general director of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, in order to solidify relations between Guatemala and the organization.
In 2006, Menchú was one of the founders of the Nobel Women's Initiative along with sister Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. These six women, representing North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, decided to bring together their experiences in a united effort for peace, justice and equality. It is the goal of the Nobel Women's Initiative to help strengthen women's rights around the world.
Menchú is a member of PeaceJam, an organization whose mission is to use Nobel Peace Laureates as mentors and models for young people and provide a way for these Laureates to share their knowledge, passions, and experience. She travels around the world speaking to youth through PeaceJam conferences. She has also been a member of the Foundation Chirac's honor committee since the foundation was launched in 2008 by former French president Jacques Chirac in order to promote world peace.
Menchú has continued her activism in recent years, according to the Prensa Latina, by continuing to raise awareness for issues including political and economic inequality and climate change.
In Menchú's interview with El Comercio in September of 2019, she stated that while there are many human rights violations occurring in Venezuela, she would be hesitant for a foreign power to intervene with the current government.
Awards and honorsEdit
- 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy and social justice work for the indigenous peoples of Latin America
- 1992 UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador position for her advocacy for the indigenous peoples of Guatemala
- 1996 Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award for her authorship and advocacy for the indigenous peoples of Guatemala
- 1998 Prince of Asturias Prize for improving the condition of women and the communities they serve. (Jointly with 6 other women.)
- 1999 asteroid 9481 Menchú was named in her honor (M.P.C. 34354)
- 2010 Order of the Aztec Eagle for services provided for Mexico
- 2018 Spendlove Prize for her advocacy for minority groups
- I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983)
- This book, also titled My Name is Rigoberta Menchú and that's how my Conscience was Born, was dictated by Menchú and transcribed by Elizabeth Burgos
- Crossing Borders (1998)
- Daughter of the Maya (1999)
- The Girl from Chimel (2005)
- The Honey Jar (2006)
- K'aslemalil-Vivir. El caminar de Rigoberta Menchú Tum en el Tiempo (2012)
Controversies about her testimonyEdit
More than a decade after the publication of I, Rigoberta Menchú, anthropologist David Stoll investigated Menchú's story and claimed that Menchú changed some elements about her life, family, and village to meet the publicity needs of the guerrilla movement. The controversy caused by Stoll's book received widespread coverage in the US press of the time. In her own critique of Stoll's work, titled The Silencing of Maya Women from Mama Maquin to Rigoberta Menchu, anthropologist Victoria Sanford highlights inaccuracies in Stoll's book, and claims that he used highly questionable sources as research informants.
John Beverly, author of The Margin at the Center: on Testimonio (Testimonial Narrative), describes the genre Testimonio as "documentary fiction" due to the other genres it encompasses, including autobiography, confession, interview, and diary. Much of the conflict surrounding Menchú's testimony, I, Rigoberta Menchú, stems from different interpretations of the Testimonio genre. Anthropologist David Johnson defends Menchú's testimony by suggesting that the irregularities in her autobiography are irrelevant because they help to accomplish what he identifies as the original purpose of her testimony: to recount the story of a typical poor Guatemalan. John Feffer, a renowned author and co-director at the Institute for Policy Studies, suggests that Menchú's testimony has remained relevant because of the way in which it describes the life of a Guatemalan during the Guatemalan Civil War.
The Nobel Committee dismissed calls to revoke Menchú's Nobel Prize, rejecting the claims of falsification by Stoll. Geir Lundestad, the secretary of the Committee, said Menchú's prize was awarded because of her advocacy and social justice work, not because of her testimony.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rigoberta Menchú.|
- Biography at the official Nobel site
- Nobel Peace Prize lecture
- Salon.com: Rigoberta Menchú meets the press
- "Peace Prize Winner Admits Discrepancies", AP story in New York Times, 12 February 1999 (Subscription only.)
- "Spain may judge Guatemala abuses", BBC News, 5 October 2005
- "Liar, Rigoberta Menchu" by Dinesh D'Souza, Boundless webzine, 1999.
- "Anthropologist Challenges Veracity of Multicultural Icon" – The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Subscription only.)
- on YouTube
- Sound recording of Elizabeth Burgos-Debray interviewing Rigoberta Menchu.
- Appearances on C-SPAN