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Rigoberta Menchú: 1959—: Activist, Author

Remained Peace Advocate Through Controversy

In 1999 David Stoll, an anthropologist from Connecticut, wrote an academic book entitled, Rigoberta Menchú and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans, which claimed that many of the atrocities Menchú described in her book either did not happen or did not happen the way she said they did. The resulting controversy once again propelled Menchú to the fore-front of international consciousness. She acknowledged that she had elaborated on some points, but staunchly reiterated that the greater picture was indeed true. As she wrote in I, Rigoberta Menchú, "My story is the story of all poor Guatemalans." Though academics and journalists have continued to argue over her book's authenticity, the Nobel Foundation, and more importantly the public, have chosen to accept Menchú's story as truth, whether literal or figurative. For in the end, Menchú's book has focused an international spotlight on human rights abuses in Guatemala, resulting in some measure of peace to her people. One Guatemalan who had lost two brothers to the civil war told the Bergen County, New Jersey, Record, "I think she's doing a really good job representing Guatemala, because people did not know what was happening there. At least now we have a little freedom to say what we feel."

Menchú has continued to travel widely, lecturing on human rights and peace. Her vigilance would seem to be necessary in historically troubled Central America. In 1999 former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who had ruled during the days of the death squads, was elected to the Guatemalan Congress. "There is a sense of fear," she told the Record in 2002. "Today, unfortunately, we are going backwards." In 2001 there were 70 threats against human rights activists and 20 politically motivated killings in Guatemala. In April of 2002, an employee at the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation offices in Guatemala was murdered. Though officially considered a botched robbery attempt, Menchú believed it was a political move, telling the Record, "It was an attack against Rigoberta Menchú. It was an attack on the Nobel Peace Prize. It was an attack on peace. It was an attack on the foundation." Because of Menchú's tireless work on behalf of human rights, no attack on Guatemala's people will again go unnoticed. With I, Rigoberta Menchú she put the world on alert. "This book broke the world's silence in regard to the armed conflict in Guatemala," she told Americas. "It is my life's testimony of which I will be forever proud."

Selected writings

I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, edited and introduced by Elisabeth BurgosDebray, New York and London, Verso, 1984.

Crossing Borders: An Autobiography, New York, Verso, 1998.



Americas, English edition, September 2000, p. 4.

Independent (London, England), December 16, 1998,
p. 13.

Los Angeles Times, November 20, 2000, p. B14.

People Weekly, December 21, 1992, p. 87.

Record (Bergen County, N.J.), May 12, 2002, p. A7.

Report on the Americas, North American Congress on Latin America, March-April 1999, pp. 6, 8.

Scholastic Update, December 3, 1993, p. 6.


"Latin America Trek: Rigoberta Menchu's Story," The Odyssey, http://www.worldtrek.org/odyssey/latinamerica/rigoberta/rigoberta_story.html#14 (March 24, 2003).

"Rigoberta Menchu Biography," Nobel Foundation, www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/1992/tum-bio.html (March 24, 2003).

—Candace LaBalle

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) BiographyRigoberta Menchú: 1959—: Activist, Author Biography - Early Life Consumed By Poverty And War, Spoke On Behalf Of Her People, Remained Peace Advocate Through Controversy