Tuesday, February 2, 2010

1992 Nobel Peace Prize--Guatemalan Rigoberta Menchu Tum

“What I treasure most in life is being able to dream. During my most difficult moments and complex situations I have been able to dream of a more beautiful future.”
- Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Rigoberta Menchu Tum was born on January 9, 1959 to a poor peasant family in Chimel in north-western Guatemala. She was raised in the traditions of the Quiche Indians, a branch of the Maya Indians. Her father, Vicente Menchu, was a community leader and her mother, Juana Tum, was a midwife and a traditional healer.

Rigoberta was the sixth of nine children. Her childhood memories are of a small homestead in the beautiful mountains of Guatemala, an untouched paradise that could only be reached by horseback. However, the Mayan Indians were very poor and they could not grow enough food in the mountains to survive. So most years, Rigoberta’s family had to leave their community for six months to work on cotton and coffee fincas, or plantations that lined the southern coast of Guatemala.

The Maya workers were treated very poorly by the plantation owners. They worked fourteen hours a day in the hot sun and were paid only pennies. Even as an adult Rigoberta was haunted by her childhood memories of what it was like to work on the plantations. One year, she watched her two-year old brother die from starvation. She never forgot the injustices that were created by the gap between the rich and the poor.

The Nobel Prize

In 1992 Rigoberta Menchú Tum was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work for the rights of the Maya of Guatemala and native people evereywhere. She was the first Indian ever to receive the award and one of only a handful of women.

In 1996, all of Rigoberta’s non-violent work, along with the struggles of so many other activists, helped lead to a peace accord in Guatemala. This agreement ended Guatemala’s 36-year civil war and gave many rights back to the Mayan people.

After the civil war ended, Rigoberta fought to have the Guatemalan political and military establishment tried in a court of law. She knew the trial would never happen in Guatemala, so she took the case to Spanish courts. In December 2006 the Spanish courts called for the extradition of seven former members of the Guatemalan government on charges of torture and genocide against the Mayan people of Guatemala.

In 2007, Rigoberta Menchú Tum ran for President of Guatemala, campaigning around the country for the rights of all Guatemalans. Although she did not win, she continues to work for justice and peace for her people.

Quotes from Rigoberta:

"I resolutely believe that respect for diversity is a fundamental pillar in the eradication of racism, xenophobia and intolerance. There is no excuse for evading the responsibility of finding the most suitable path toward the elimination of any expression of discrimination against indigenous peoples."

"We have learned that change cannot come through war. War is not a feasible tool to use in fighting against the oppression we face. War has caused more problems. We cannot embrace that path."

"I think that nonviolence is one way of saying that there are other ways to solve problems, not only through weapons and war. Nonviolence also means the recognition that the person on one side of the trench and the person on the other side of the trench are both human beings, with the same faculties. At some point they have to begin to understand one another."