The Rigoberta Menchu Controversy

The Rigoberta Menchu Controversy

The Rigoberta Menchu Controversy

The Rigoberta Menchu Controversy


Guatemalan indigenous rights activist Rigoberta Menchu first came to international prominence following the 1983 publication of her memoir, I, Rigoberta Menchu, which chronicled in compelling detail the violence and misery that she and her people suffered during her country's brutal civil war. The book focused world attention on Guatemala and led to her being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. In 1999, a book by David Stoll challenged the veracity of key details in Menchu's account, generating a storm of controversy. Journalists and scholars squared off regarding whether Menchu had lied about her past and, if so, what that would mean about the larger truths revealed in her book.

In The Rigoberta Menchu Controversy, Arturo Arias has assembled a casebook that offers a balanced perspective on the debate. The first section of this volume collects the primary documents -- newspaper articles, interviews, and official statements -- in which the debate raged, many translated into English for the first time. In the second section, a distinguished group of international scholars assesses the political, historical, and cultural contexts of the debate, and considers its implications for such issues as the "culture wars", historical truth, and the politics of memory. Also included is a new essay by David Stoll in which he responds to his critics.


Rigoberta Menchú's History
within the Guatemalan Context
Arturo Arias

Guatemala, the largest and richest country in Central America, borders the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas on the west, the Yucatán peninsula to the north, El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Approximately the size of Ohio or Tennessee, it has a population of about eleven million people, half of them Maya. Most Mayas live in the central and western highlands of the country, called the Sierra Madre here as in neighboring Mexico. the Sierra Madre, the southern continuation of the Rocky Mountains, gives Guatemala its mountainous landscape.

When the Spaniards conquered Guatemala in the early sixteenth century, they burned and looted Maya cities, and they executed the entire Maya elite. in one of history's first holocausts, it is estimated that as many as two and a half million Mayas died in the fifty years following the Conquest. Since then, Mayas have been enslaved, oppressed, and discriminated against. During Spanish colonialism, they were virtual slaves, despite the fact that, according to the Laws of the Indies, indigenous peoples technically could not be enslaved. Independence from Spain in the early nineteenth century did not improve their lot. the criollos fundamentally ignored Mayas in the early part of the nineteenth century and granted them a degree of autonomy by default. However, Mayas were forced by Ladinos to work against their will in the coffee plantations after 1871, and they were treated as subhumans, barely subsisting. the so-called liberal regimes that succeeded each other throughout the twentieth century never worried about improving the Mayas' lot, nor . . .

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