© 1999 by the
RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ TUM FOUNDATION
RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ TUM:
THE TRUTH THAT CHALLENGES THE FUTURE In recent weeks, publications that have appeared in the media in different countries have sought to call in to question the testimony of Rigoberta Menchú Tum, starting with the publication of the work of a North American researcher who attempts to refute the recent history of Guatemala--that today is recognized by both the world and the parties to the internal conflict--a history which is dealt with as an ideological invention of the left, which he accuses, at the same time, of manipulating the person and fabricating the myth that is personified by the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Just when the commemorations of the 500th Anniversary appeared to have left behind the arrogance and the superiority complexes of those who have, until now, written history since the conquest, now we see how some people celebrate with unconcealed enthusiasm the appearance of these new chroniclers who attempt to return to their place--the same old place--those who had the audacity to add to the Official Story that which it was lacking: the vision of the conquered. And they do so protected by the presumably scientific rigor conferred upon them by the fact that they speak in the name of the North American academy.
Nevertheless, ten years of idle pursuits to assemble a version made up of bits and pieces of interviews of dubious seriousness are no longer sufficient to modify this new history, nor much less to take us back to the myth that saw indigenous people as juvenile, ignorant and incapable of making their own decisions. One cannot keep appealing to that paternalistic vision according to which it was always others who decided their fate, be they the Iberians who came to "make America" five hundred years ago, or those who cannot bear the fact that the legitimate revolts of yesterday and today might be genuine expressions of those desirous of freedom and redemption for those peoples to whom the right to be themselves had been denied.
The public opinion campaign unleashed by this work has emerged in a moment in which it has become fashionable to lie and in which it seems necessary to validate the right to lie with impunity, inverting the values of honesty that up until now public personalities have had to practice. Neither does it appear to be casual its coincidence with the recipe of punishment--even annihilation, to be precise--of those who work to defend the right to be different.
The testimony of Rigoberta Menchú has the value of representing the story not just of a witness but rather the personal experience of a protagonist and the interpretation of that which her own eyes saw and wept, that which her own ears heard, and that which they were told. No testimony can be viewed as journalistic reporting, nor as a neutral description of the reality of others. The testimony of Rigoberta Menchú has the bias and the courage of a victim who, in addition to what she personally suffered, had a right to assume as her own personal story the atrocities that her people lived through. Their dead are still dead, and that is denied neither by the researcher, nor his sources, nor the signers of the peace accords that ended the Guatemalan tragedy. It is not important whether they were burned alive or if they were already dead, either by kerosene or white phosphorous, and no one has the right or the authority to deny the pain that her heart has felt and continues to feel.
None of the supposed inexactitudes, exaggerations or omissions which are purported in the mentioned text either detract from or weaken the truth of the testimony of Rigoberta Menchú. Moreover, in 1983, her testimony contributed not only to the denunciation of those aberrant crimes that were committed in this part of the world, but also saved the life of many of the protagonists and those of their families, whether it was her own, those of the nuns that protected her, those of the indigenous peoples or peasants who shared their fate with her, or of the combatants who understood the path of the guerrillas to be their only way out of the shameful situation that her people had confronted for more than four decades.
The path for which Rigoberta Menchú opted, in contrast to that which her detractors now claim, was that of involving the conscience of the international community--which was up until then very distant from that reality--in the drama of her people; that of uniting her voice with those who demanded a just, democratic and peaceful solution to the Guatemalan conflict and the recognition of the neocolonial reality to which, even today, the majority of indigenous peoples in the Americas and in the rest of the world continue to be submitted; and that of seeking to bring down the wall of impunity and silence with which the powerful have hidden that reality.
That path took Rigoberta Menchú to the Nobel Peace Prize, and this contributed, in an effective way, to the opening of the road to peace in Guatemala, and the recognition of the situation and the indigenous demands expressed in the declaration of the International Year and Decade of Indigenous Peoples. This path is moreover eloquent as to the personality, moral stature and leadership of Ms. Menchú, and amply belies the image that this slanderous publication and the campaign of those who have echoed it now seek to transmit.
At this stage, and now far from the dazzling celebrations and commemorations of 1992, we can find evidence of the weakening of the commitments that were assumed at that time and that of the political will of many of the actors for moving it forward. The agenda that the struggle of the indigenous peoples bequeathed to the Decade has gradually been emptied of its promising content, its negotiation is threatened by the indifference of governments and international institutions, and in addition there is an increasing demobilization of some indigenous organizations.
It is cause for concern to state that in many circles of power throughout the world there is an increasing sense that indigenous peoples are an obstacle to the stability of the prevailing order and a potential danger, given the accumulation of discontent and frustrations. It would seem that with the end of the cold war, some people need to find new enemies in order to prolong the confrontation.
In this setting, the attacks against those to whom we refer today broaden their meaning and seek to place into question not only this or that testimony, but rather the truth about the colonial history that all of the world's States recognized in naming Rigoberta Menchú as an Ambassador of Good Will for the International Year of Indigenous Peoples, and seek to deliberately forget the commitments acquired.
At the end of the millennium, we note the worrisome broadening of the conditions of poverty, inequity, intolerance and marginalization that affect the majorities in our nations, making it incomprehensible that the progress of science and technology and the advances of modernity are not translated into solutions for these problems. To the contrary, that reality in which individualism and short-sightedness increase injustices leaves open the path for the emergence and deepening of the conflicts that threaten peace.
As this year begins with one that ends a decade marked by wars and fratricidal confrontation, we wish to emphasize the demand for a new civilizing order, based on the recognition of pluralism and respect for differences, on tolerance and dialogue, on development that leads to equity, and on the truth that leads to justice, all of which are values that summarize the ethic of peace to which Rigoberta Menchú has given testimony with her life.
This pronouncement is a call to public awareness, to social organizations, governments and institutions of the international system to revive critical reflection, to reaffirm commitments and to renew the decision and the will to face up to the debts incurred by humanity with the history that, until a few years ago, it refused to recognize.