July 1, 2005

Indigenous rights still a major problem

Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú in Tijuana

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

The Mixteco women’s situation in Tijuana is similar to that lived by Rigoberta Menchú in her native Guatemala: discrimination, racism, hunger, violence and poverty.

But indigenous people face these evils not only in Mexico, but all over Latin America, said Menchú during a conference about the human rights of women sponsored by Universidad de Tijuana, which took place on Monday, Jun 27, at Hotel Camino Real.

The 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner said that as long as the pattern of discrimination continues, the Indigenous people of the Americas will keep on paying the consecuences.

During the conference, Menchú, who was born in 1959 in the Maya-Quiché village of Chimel, Guatemala, also said that immigration from Latin America to the United States won’t stop until Latin American countries start developing an economic system that’s more inclusive.

“Every economic model that lacks a social face or social intension is an ill-fated economy; our countries aren’t poor, they’re ridden into poverty permanently,” said Menchú, who due to her activism in Guatemala had to flee to Mexico in 1980.

Menchú criticized the United States’ immigration policy, arguing that it violates human rights.

“It is absurd to think that a wall can solve the problem by separating families. There can be many walls, and they won’t solve the problem as long as there are no economic development alternatives in our villages. History can’t be stopped,” she said.

The indigenous leader said that violence against women is a growing problem in all of Latin American, especially in Guatemala.

“It looks like a permanent campaign against women,” said Menchú, who added that that violence most of the time begins within the family.

Dressed in a typical Quiché Mayan dress, Menchú said the last time she was in Tijuana was about six years ago.

“I feel very happy to be back in Tijuana where I’ve spent great moments, I’ve been here several times, and I’ve given some conferences.”

Although during the conference in Tijuana Menchú was always smiling to the public, behind her there’s a story full of pain and violence, starting in her village in Guatemala.

It was during the ‘70s and ‘80s that tensions between native Indians and White Guatemalans grew.

The young Menchú became involved in the movement against oppression, and encouraged other Indians to resist it.

Members of her family, including her parents and brother, were murdered by the government in brutal ways: Her brother was arrested, tortured, and killed by the army; her father was killed by the police at the Spanish Embassy which he and other peasents had taken by force; her mother dies after being arrested, tortured and raped.

Her activism forced her to seek exile in Mexico in 1981, at the age of 21.

In 1983, she narrated her life story to Elisabeth Burgos Debray, and that became the basis for the book called “I, Rigoberta Menchú.”

Once in Mexico, Menchú became a powerful advocate of Indigenous rights, especially women’s rights.

It wasn’t until 1988, that she returned to Guatemala where she continues her struggle.

She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, year that marked the 500 anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Western Hemisphere and the beginning of the European genocide against Indigenous people.

During her acceptance speech, Menchú said she was accepting the prize on behalf of all Indigenous people in the Americas.

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