Rigoberta Menchu wins Nobel Peace Prize

Issue 

By Robyn Marshall

Mexico City held a huge party for Rigoberta Menchu Tum on October 20, to celebrate her winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. As soon as she heard the announcement, she had gone to Guatemala to speak with the indigenous Indian people on whose behalf she has accepted the prize.

Menchu was invited to a reception at the National Palace. The last thing the Guatemalan government wanted was for Rigoberta Menchu to win. It had not supported her nomination and had actually nominated someone else. However, since congratulations were flooding in from all corners of the world, even from the Salvadoran government, President Serrano decided to make the best of a bad situation.

Menchu has now been asked to be a mediator between the government and progressive forces, including the URNG, in peace negotiations.

Rigoberta Menchu has been forced to live in exile in Mexico for the last 10 years by threats to her life, which originate from the hated Guatemalan armed forces. In July she was able to return to Guatemala for a short visit only because she was accompanied by Madame Mitterrand, wife of the French president, to attend a conference of indigenous people from the Americas. Despite this protection, another crude attempt was made on her life.

Rigoberta Menchu is a household name in Latin America and parts of Europe. Her extraordinary life became public through her book, I ... Rigoberta Menchu, which had been translated by Elizabeth Burgos-Debray in 1982.

Rigoberta, a poor Guatemalan peasant woman, began her life working on the plantations, picking coffee, cotton and cardamom and cutting sugar for the wealthy landowners with her parents, brothers and sisters.

In the winter, they would return to the mountains to grow maize and live their traditional life. However, the army was driving off the Indian peasants and giving the land to the cattle ranchers. Her father decided to take up the fight to defend the community and so begun Rigoberta's political education.

When General Garcia Lucas came to power in 1978, Guatemala suffered a horrifying period of mass repression, murder and torture. The Indian peasants bore the brunt of this rampage. Rigoberta's mother, father and brother were all killed in separate attacks by the army. Rigoberta joined the struggle with passion and dedicated commitment, becoming a national leader of the Committee for Unity of Campesinos.

The Guatemalan government is understandably perturbed

by her win. It knows she will not mince words and can not be intimidated into submission. Perhaps now with all eyes on Guatemala, the veil will be lifted on the 30-year war that has ravaged that o do so.

The Guatemalan community in Australia hopes to have her visit here next year. She toured here in 1989.