Who is Rigoberta Menchú Tum?

Rigoberta Menchú Tum | Estoril Conferences
Rigob­er­ta Menchú Tum | Esto­ril Con­fer­ences

Rigob­er­ta Menchú Tum is a Mayan k’iche’ activist. She was born in 1959, in a small Mayan com­mu­ni­ty called Chimel, locat­ed in the high­lands of Guatemala. As a young girl grow­ing up in pover­ty, Rigob­er­ta used to trav­el with her father from com­mu­ni­ty to com­mu­ni­ty teach­ing rur­al farm­ers about their rights and encour­ag­ing them to orga­nize.

Guatemala was a coun­try marked by extreme vio­lence due to deep-root­ed eth­nic and socioe­co­nom­ic ten­sions between the native Indi­an pop­u­la­tion and the Euro­pean immi­grants, dat­ing back to the col­o­niza­tion peri­od. Under the dic­ta­tor­ship of Efraín Ríos Montt, the Guatemalan mil­i­tary launched a “scorched earth cam­paign” in the ear­ly 1980’s, burn­ing hun­dreds of Mayan vil­lages, mas­sacring hun­dreds of peo­ple and bru­tal­ly tor­tur­ing and mur­der­ing any­one sus­pect­ed of dis­sent­ing from the imposed pol­i­cy of repres­sion.

Rigoberta’s moth­er and broth­er were kid­napped and killed, and her father was burned alive at a peace­ful protest held at the Span­ish Embassy in Guatemala City. Dur­ing said cam­paign, the mil­i­tary killed up to two hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple and forced one mil­lion peo­ple into exile, includ­ing Rigob­er­ta, who was forced to leave her coun­try. And while the Guatemalan army marched against its peo­ple, the rest of the world remained almost com­plete­ly silent.

In exile, Rigob­er­ta came into con­tact with human rights groups work­ing in Latin Amer­i­ca. She began pub­licly speak­ing about the suf­fer­ing of the indige­nous peo­ple in Guatemala and, in 1983, she pub­lished a book enti­tled I, Rigob­er­ta Menchú, which push the Guatemalan civ­il war into glob­al head­lines.

Her con­tin­ued efforts as an activist dur­ing those times were rec­og­nized by the Nobel Com­mit­tee in 1992, when Rigob­er­ta Menchú Tum received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on social jus­tice and eth­no-cul­tur­al rec­on­cil­i­a­tion based on the respect for the rights of indige­nous peo­ples.

The sym­bol­ic strength of the Nobel was of great sig­nif­i­cance in achiev­ing a peace agree­ment between the gov­ern­ment of Guatemala and the guer­ril­la orga­ni­za­tions in 1996. By that time, more than 400 Mayan vil­lages were destroyed, over 200,000 Guatemalans had been mur­dered and there were more than one mil­lion peo­ple dis­placed.

From 1996 to 2004, Rigob­er­ta Menchú Tum was a UNESCO Good­will Ambas­sador, pro­mot­ing the pro­tec­tion of the polit­i­cal, social and cul­tur­al rights of indige­nous peo­ples and eth­nic minori­ties, while work­ing on her estab­lished foun­da­tion, the Rigob­er­ta Menchú Tum Foun­da­tion, which sup­ports Mayan com­mu­ni­ties and sur­vivors of the geno­cide.

Her polit­i­cal strug­gles got her to found WINAQ, the first indige­nous-led polit­i­cal par­ty, with which she ran for Pres­i­dent of Guatemala in 2007 and 2011. In 2013, she was appoint­ed Spe­cial Inves­ti­ga­tor with­in the Mul­ti­cul­tur­al Nation Pro­gram of the Autonomous Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty of Mex­i­co.

Today, Rigob­er­ta Menchú Tum con­tin­ues to seek jus­tice for all those impact­ed by the geno­cide while con­tin­u­ing her work on the pro­mo­tion of human rights and devel­op­ment.

Tex and Pho­to from Esto­ril Con­fer­ences Web­site

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Joao Lamares

Editor in Chief at JLpress News
Fotógrafo profissional desde 1999, colaborou com diversas empresas, agencias de publicidade e gabinetes de imprensa.
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