Nobel Peace Prize Strengthens Voice of Guatemala Indians

By David Clark Scott, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 19, 1992 | Go to article overview

Nobel Peace Prize Strengthens Voice of Guatemala Indians


David Clark Scott, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


BY awarding Guatemalan human rights campaigner Rigoberta Menchu the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Institute intends to focus international attention on the longest-running civil war in Central America, analysts say.

For more than a decade, Ms. Menchu has lived in exile from her homeland. The brutal conflict in Guatemala that has taken more than 120,000 lives rages on. Indeed, Menchu is not even participating in the stagnated peace talks between the government and leftist insurgents.

But Menchu, a Quiche Indian, has been a ceaseless campaigner in international forums for indigenous American rights. Her 1983 book "I, Rigoberta," has been translated into 11 languages and recounts her life of persecution.

"Rigoberta Menchu stands out as a vivid symbol of peace and reconciliation across ethnic, cultural, and social dividing lines," the Nobel Committee said in announcing the $1.2 million prize.

In Guatemala on Saturday, the day after receiving the award, Menchu told a crowd of supporters that "peace is not signed on paper. It must be cultivated, formed in people's hearts."

At the root of the brutal war in Guatemala, analysts say, are the poverty and human rights violations suffered primarily by the indigenous population, comprises more than half of the country's 9 million inhabitants.

"By bringing the spotlight of world attention and enlightened opinion to the situation in Guatemala, one would hope this would be an impetus to the peace process," says William LeoGrande, a Latin America specialist at Washington University.

Professor LeoGrande likens the award to the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize won by Oscar Arias Sanchez, who was then Costa Rica's president. That award bolstered a regional peace plan that eventually brought an end to the war in Nicaragua.

The Guatemalan peace talks, begun in April 1991, are gridlocked over the issue of human rights, which is only the first item on an 11-point negotiating agenda. Guatemala has one of the worst human rights records in the hemisphere. …

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