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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 feminists during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), and to promoting indigenous rights in the country.

Rigoberta Menchú
Rigoberta Menchu.jpg
Menchú in 1998
Rigoberta Menchú Tum

(1959-01-09) 9 January 1959 (age 60)
OccupationActivist, politician
Parent(s)Juana Tum Kótoja
Vicente Menchú Pérez
AwardsNobel Peace Prize in 1992
Prince of Asturias Awards in 1998
Order of the Aztec Eagle in 2010.
WebsiteRigoberta 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 has also become a figure in indigenous political parties and ran for President of Guatemala in 2007 and 2011.


Personal lifeEdit

Rigoberta Menchú was born to a poor indigenous family of Q'iche' Maya descent in Laj Chimel, a rural areas in the north-central Guatemalan province of El Quiché.[1] Menchú received a primary- and middle-school education as a student at several Catholic boarding schools.[citation needed]

In 1979-80 her brother, Patrocinio, and her mother, Juana, were kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the Guatemalan army.[citation needed] 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.[2] In January 2015, a Guatemalan court convicted the commander of a former police investigations murder unit of attempted murder and crimes against humanity for his role in the embassy attack.[2]

In 1981, Menchú was exiled and escaped to Mexico where she found refuge in the home of a Catholic bishop in Chiapas.[citation needed] 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 Conscience was Born), to Venezuelan author and anthropologist Elizabeth Burgos, which was translated into five other languages including English and French.[1] The book made her an international icon at the time of the ongoing conflict in Guatemala.[1]

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.[citation needed]

In 1995, Menchú married Ángel Canil, a Guatemalan. They have a son, Mash Nahual J’a ("Spirit of Water").[3]


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.[citation needed] 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.[4] 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.[4]

After the Guatemalan Civil War ended, Menchú campaigned to have Guatemalan political and military establishment members tried in Spanish courts.[5] In 1999, she filed a complaint before a court in Spain because prosecutions of civil-war era crimes in Guatemala was practically impossible.[5] 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.[5] 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.[6] Spain's highest court ruled that cases of genocide committed abroad could be judged in Spain, even if no Spanish citizens were involved.[6] In addition to the deaths of Spanish citizens, the most serious charges include genocide against the Maya people of Guatemala.[6]

Menchu commemorating the Treaty on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2009

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.[7] She has served as president of "Salud para Todos" since 2003 and has opened pharmacies all over Guatemala.[8] 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.[8]

Mechú served as the Presidential Goodwill Ambassador for the 1996 Peace Accords in Guatemala.[7] That same year she received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award in Boston.[9] Since then, 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.[10] In 2015, Menchú met with the general director of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, in order to solidify relations between Guatemala and the organization.[11]

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.[12] 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.[12] It is the goal of the Nobel Women's Initiative to help strengthen women's rights around the world.[12]

Menchú is a member of PeaceJam, an organization whose mission is use Nobel Peace Laureates as mentors and models to young, future leaders and provide a way for these Laureates to share their knowledge, passions, and experience.[13][14] She travels around the world speaking to youth through PeaceJam conferences.[13] She has also been a member of the Fondation Chirac's honor committee since the foundation was launched in 2008 by former French president Jacques Chirac in order to promote world peace.[15]

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.[16]


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.[17] 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.[citation needed]

In the 2007 election, Menchú was defeated in the first round, receiving three percent of the vote.[18] After the elections, Rigoberta Menchú gave a message of peace to all Guatemalans on television.[19]

In 2009, Menchú became involved in the newly founded party Winaq.[17] Menchú was a candidate for the 2011 presidential election, but lost in the first round, winning three percent of the vote again.[20] According to Adam Zuckerman, writer for the Washington Report on Hemisphere, Menchú's candidacy failed because she elected to run as part of a new political party instead of as part of an established one and because of her lack of political experience.[17]

Awards and honorsEdit

The Nobel Peace Prize Medal awarded to Menchú is safeguarded in the Museo del Templo Mayor in Mexico City.
  • 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy and social justice work for the indigenous peoples of Latin America[21]
  • 1992 UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador position for her advocacy for the indigenous peoples of Guatemala[10]
  • 1996 Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award for her authorship and advocacy for the indigenous peoples of Guatemala[22]
  • 1998 Prince of Asturias Prize for improving the condition of women and the communities they serve. (Jointly with 6 other women.)[23]
  • 1999 asteroid 9481 Menchú was named in her honor (M.P.C. 34354)[24]
  • 2010 Order of the Aztec Eagle for services provided for Mexico[25]
  • 2018 Spendlove Prize for her advocacy for minority groups[26]


  • I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983)[27]
    • 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[28]
  • Crossing Borders (1998)[29]
  • Daughter of the Maya (1999)[30]
  • The Girl from Chimel (2005)[31]
  • The Honey Jar (2006)[32]
  • K'aslemalil-Vivir. El caminar de Rigoberta Menchú Tum en el Tiempo (2012)[33][34]

Controversies about her testimonyEdit

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.[35] Much of the conflict surrounding Menchú's testimony, I, Rigoberta Menchú, stems from different interpretations of the Testimonio genre.[36]

More than a decade after the publication of I, Rigoberta Menchú, anthropologist David Stoll investigated Menchú's story by researching government documents, reports, and land claims (many of which were filed by Menchú's own family), in addition to interviewing Menchú's former neighbors, friends, enemies, and Guatemalan locals for his 1999 book Rigoberta Menchú and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans.[citation needed].

Stoll claimed Menchú changed some elements about her life, family, and village to meet the publicity needs of the guerrilla movement.[citation needed] The controversy caused by Stoll's book received widespread coverage in the US press of the time.[37]

Historian Greg Grandin claims Stoll's research on the Guatemalan revolution is mostly wrong, but was able to corroborate Stoll's charges against two of the anecdotes in Menchú's testimony.[38] Grandin documented that Menchú received some education, contradicting a claim that her father refused to send her to school because he did not want her to lose her cultural identity.[39] Additionally, Grandin and Stoll both found evidence that Menchú falsely placed herself at the scene of her 16-year-old brother's murder.[39] According to Grandin, in a later interview, Stoll agreed that the majority of Menchú's testimony is essentially accurate.[38]

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.[40] Additionally, anthropologist David Johnson uses his article, "The limits of community: How 'we' read Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú", to defend 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.[41] John Feffer, a renown author and co-director at the Institute for Policy Studies, suggests that Menchú's testimony has remained relevant despite the issues highlighted by Stoll due to the facts it presents and the way in which it describes the life of a Guatemalan during the Guatemalan Civil War.[36]

The Nobel Committee dismissed calls to revoke Menchú's Nobel Prize, rejecting the claims of falsification by Stoll.[citation needed] 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.[1][21] According to the Nobel Committee, because Menchú's testimony allowed her to bring light to the horrors the Guatemalan army committed, Stoll agrees with the Nobel Committee's decision not to revoke Menchú's prize.[1]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e "Rigoberta Menchú Tum - Biographical". 2013. Archived from the original on 29 August 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  2. ^ a b Grandin, Greg. "Rigoberta Menchú Vindicated". The Nation. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  3. ^ Irwin Abrams, The Nobel Peace Prize and the Laureates: An Illustrated Biographical History, Watson Publishing International, 2001, p. 296.
  4. ^ a b "Menchú Tum, Rigoberta". UNHCR. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Archived from the original on 4 June 2016. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Reuters, From (3 December 1999). "Activist Asks Spain to Pursue Guatemala Case". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  6. ^ a b c "Spain seeks Guatemalan ex-rulers". BBC News. 23 December 2006. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Guatemalan Peace Prize Winner Opens Discount Drug Stores". Houston Chronicle. 2003.
  9. ^ "Recipients of the Courage of Conscience Award". Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  10. ^ a b "Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchu to give UNESCO Human Rights Lecture". US Fed News Service. 2012.
  11. ^ "Directora Unesco llega a Guatemala en visita oficial para reforzar relaciones". EFE News Service. 2015.
  12. ^ a b c Nobel Women's Initiative Archived 16 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ a b Profile,, 20 April 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  14. ^ PeaceJam Mission Statement
  15. ^ "Honor Committee". Fondation Chirac. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  16. ^ "Rigoberta Menchú habla en ONU sobre obstáculos para la cultura de paz". Prensa Latina. 2018.
  17. ^ a b c Zuckerman, Adam (2007). "The Presidential Candidacy of Rigoberta Menchú: Facing Guatemala's Bitter Past". The Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
  18. ^ "Nobel winner seeks presidency". 10 February 2007. Archived from the original on 8 February 2009. Retrieved 22 April 2009.
  19. ^ "Rigoberta Menchu send a Christmas and Peace message". YouTube. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  20. ^ "Menchú, Rigoberta | The Columbia Encyclopedia - Credo Reference". Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  21. ^ a b "The Nobel Peace Prize 1992", Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  22. ^ admin. "Recipients of the Courage of Conscience Award | The Peace Abbey FoundationThe Peace Abbey Foundation". Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  23. ^ "Premio Príncipe de Asturias de Cooperación Internacional 1998", Fundación Princesa de Asturias website]. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  24. ^ "9481 Menchu (2559 P-L)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  25. ^ "What is the Order of the Aztec Eagle?!". México News Network. 6 July 2015. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  26. ^ "Guatemalan Nobelist Announced as this Year's Spendlove Prize Recipient". Targeted News Service. 2018.
  27. ^ Menchú, Rigoberta (2013). "I, Rigoberta Menchú an Indian Woman in Guatemala". The Literature of Propaganda – via Credoreference.
  28. ^ Burgos, Elizabeth (2005). Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la consciencia. Siglo veintiuno editores. ISBN 9682313155. OCLC 775861208.
  29. ^ Menchú, Rigoberta (1998). Crossing borders. Wright, Ann, 1943-. London: Verso. ISBN 1859848931. OCLC 39458909.
  30. ^ Menchú, Rigoberta (1999). Enkelin der Maya : Autobiografie. Lamuv. ISBN 3889775551. OCLC 175122620.
  31. ^ Menchú, Rigoberta (2005). The girl from Chimel. Groundwood Books. ISBN 0888996667. OCLC 57697284.
  32. ^ Menchú, Rigoberta (2006). The honey jar. Liano, Dante., Unger, David., Domi. Toronto: Groundwood Books. ISBN 9780888996701. OCLC 61427375.
  33. ^ Menchú, Rigoberta. K'aslemalil, vivir : el caminar de Rigoberta Menchú Tum en el tiempo. ISBN 9786070271700. OCLC 955326314.
  34. ^ "Guatemalteca Rigoberta Menchú celebra 56 años con libro autobiográfico". Notimex. 2015.
  35. ^ Beverley, John (1989). "The Margin at the Center: on "Testimonio" (Testimonial Narrative)". Modern Fiction Studies. 35: 11–28.
  36. ^ a b Feffer, John (2010). "Not-So-Magical Realism". Foreign Policy in Focus.
  37. ^ Rohter, Larry (15 December 1998), "TARNISHED LAUREATE: A special report; Nobel Winner Finds Her Story Challenged", The New York Times, retrieved 27 November 2017
  38. ^ a b Grandin, Greg. "It Was Heaven That They Burned", The Nation, 8 September 2010, pg. 3.
  39. ^ a b Grandin, Greg. "It Was Heaven That They Burned", The Nation, 8 September 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  40. ^ Sanford, Victoria PhD. "The Silencing of Maya Women From Mama Maquin to Rigoberta Menchu", pp. 135-43; see p. 142 for critique on Stoll's informant, Alfonso Riviera.
  41. ^ Johnson, David (2001). "The limits of community: How "we" read me llamo rigoberta menchu". Discourse. 23: 154.


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External linksEdit