The Odyssey


Rigoberta's Story

Live Webcast, February 18, 1999!
Rigoberta Menchú
Picture of Rigoberta  
Click the back button on your browser
to go back to the page you were reading.

Abeja: Good morning, welcome to The Odyssey World Trek for Service and Education. We are here in Guatemala City live this 18th day of February 1999 with 1992 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum.

Her life has been dedicated to bringing peace and justice to her country, Guatemala, which has been ravaged by a civil war for 36 years.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum is an inspiration to all of us who strive to make the world a more peaceful place and we are honored to have this opportunity to speak with her today.

Rigoberta: Thank you.  

Jamila: The first question is from the organization I*EARN. They would like to know: How has the struggle for your people changed since it began?

Yes, how has the struggle of the Guatemalan people changed since it began. I would say that it has changed many things, above all, because there existed an armed conflict here in Guatemala that had high costs. This armed conflict was affecting the lives of many people, apart from the fact that our people have always lived in misery, poverty, and hunger, but more concretely have always lived marginalized. During the last 36 years there has been an armed conflict, and now there isn't an armed conflict here because we've signed the peace accords and we've finished the war and now we are reconstructing the country, reconstructing the collective memory, reconstructing the truth about this armed conflict and also relocating the population affected by this armed conflict.

I was born in Chimel, it's a small town, we walked 9 hours to arrive at this place. My parents were very poor and we grew up in the finca, we worked a lot and it wasn't only difficult work but we also lived with the repercussions of this armed conflict. I remember all these years and unfortunately I personally lost 5 members of my family in this armed conflict. I have 2 brothers and now I donít know where they are. I don't know anything about them and I hope one day they will be found so that they can be buried with dignity, the way it should be.

I think a lot has changed, although we still haven't resolved the total solution to the problems of poverty, misery, the lack of education, or the imposition of an education that is not a multiethnic, intercultural education. And I believe that these will be the methods of the future. We also have to change the methods of education, so our people in general have access to education.

Abeja: Earthharmony asks: How can we help the indigenous people in Central America from our homes in the United States?

Well, what you are doing is a way of helping in that you are not just sharing with us the good experiences that we have but also that people can know about our truth, our history. We feel a breath every time you find out what's going on here. In the next few days there will be a report published which is called "The Memory of Silence." This report gathers the testimony of many Guatemalans that lived through the violence. I believe that the most important thing for us is that you read this report and also support this report.

Jamila: Now we have a question from Jeff in the state of Idaho. He wants to know in what project or work are you concentrating now and how can children help you and support you in this project?

Well, I believe that the biggest thing we are doing now is reconstructing Guatemala. We are relocating the refugees who were in Mexico, who are returning to Guatemala, we have built some houses, we have built some schools. Also, we are supporting the internal displaced, many people have been affected by the war and now they have to return with their lives. We are helping also to work out new educational reforms. We need to realize these educational reforms. We need to have a new constitution. The next few months we will also take part in a popular referendum so that the Constitutional Reforms will be made.

Our foundation has made various investigations concerning the weaknesses in education, about the reforms that should be made but also to create a new code of education that doesn't go against the culture of the indigenous people, an education based in the same educational experiences of these peoples. The foundation has, for this, an institute, which is making a new conceptualization of education. I have said also that we have taken some legal cases to the courts. We have accompanied the legal reforms so that there won't be impunity here in Guatemala. It's not easy because for many years the military was dictating the judicial system and they bought the judges, they bought the lawyers, so to change this situation is a very difficult job and many times it's not just a work of protesting, but we have to participate directly before the courts, which is especially what we are doing in the XamŠn case. This is a court case that we are bringing against twenty-five military individuals who participated in the last massacre of the armed conflict in Guatemala.

But we are also working with UNESCO and perhaps what is more important is that you can support us in developing a vision of a culture of peace. We need to create a culture of peace. It's not only that people need to coexist peacefully but a measure so that peace is more integrated into our culture and not be a product of war. We don't need to have war first and then make peace. Instead it should be part of our education, our values, and part of our approach to resolving problems.

Therefore, young people have a lot to contribute. For instance, we could do exchanges, so that you could know more about our work. We can share with you our accomplishments and plans also.

I would like to remind you that, the United Nations, has declared the year 2000 to be the International Year For The Culture Of Peace, where young people and women ought to participate very actively. I think that the year 2000 will allow us to do a lot of exchanges. And I think we can start there.

Abeja: Our next question comes from Pat Muller: Pat wants to know, how can you continue without losing your faith when so many times it seems things will never change.

I believe that faith is the most important thing we have and we should never lose our faith. We also need to trust people, in the new generations, in victims, and the women who struggle for life and peace.

I have learned to be a part of a collective memory of Guatemala, including when we talk about the torture and death of my mother, it's not only my mother but thousands of other people's mothers who have passed through this situation and for that reason it gives me much strength.

I also believe that the memory of people who have died and were assassinated is a collective memory.

I also have a son. I had two sons, but in 1997, I lost a child. But, both give me strength, because these children, one is alive and one is dead, but both made me a mother. I think that the most important thing is for people to struggle for the future, for the next generations, not only for today, many people live and struggle only for today, but the most important thing is to struggle for the future and generations that are to come, make longer term plans and to incorporate the people in the work that we do.

And I feel very enthusiastic because there are many people doing exactly the same things I do and working for the same ideals, like the respect of human rights, respect for other persons, respect for things that are different, not that we find something we donít know and therefore not respect it, but instead we should always have respect.

So it gives me strength that humanity is our humanity and we canít let that humanity gives up with so much violence, with so much injustice, but I also believe that there are things that change. I have seen many changes in my life, I see that things change little by little, they are small changes, but we have to always value these changes. I always want to have a positive and proactive attitude; this is the most important thing.

Question: How can indigenous people maintain their culture under so much influence coming from the US and other countries?

I believe that for many years they have denied us our own respective history, they have denied us our participation. They have seen us as colonized people, as victims, as incapable. They have studied us so much. But the last few years the situation has changed a lot. We now we feel the protagonists of our own history and we are protagonists of our memory. We are proactive. And we can create many important contributions in all respects, the fields like science, technology, education.

We have some proposals for a new society in peaceful existence. Our people are not an isolated people. Our people are a very creative people. I believe it's time to allow the indigenous people to follow their own path and not to impose on them a special model. I donít need a special model in order to live, work, struggle and dream. We are a people that dream and I believe that to dream is a capacity of being purposeful. Therefore, Iíd say that the indigenous communities of today are not objects. We are subjects. We are protagonists. They have to accept us as protagonists and we are no longer the victims of always.

Here we are not victims. Our women are working, our young people are struggling for a better life, our communities work for a better well being within their own communities. We do make mistakes. We are communities that live with many mistakes from the past. I think that we are normal people. What I hope is that you and the young people in the future will look upon indigenous people as normal people and not as victims as they have looked upon us in the past.

Question: We have a question from San Diego. How does it affect you to be such a very famous person?

Well, by one hand it's very sad that there need to be people who are controversial in order to break the silence, in order to condemn the grave violations of humans rights, to represent a women's voice. I donít think that one should have to be controversial in order to do these things. My life has been a life that has been very controversial since I went into exile, since from 20 years ago I was the only woman who talked about the atrocities, who denounced genocide and who denounced the violation that occurred in Guatemala.

And I was lucky that I had survived, active and a fighter. So many people look at me just for what I am now but they do not see my journey, from where I have come, that my family was very poor and are still poor. Many of my brothers are still living the way we used to live before. So sometimes it happens that I am in a community, for example, I was in Acteal when the massacre happened there and to feel the pain of the mothers of Chiapas or to feel the pain young mothers like in Thailand and India or Africa. It has happened that I have been all over the world. It has always been a difficult road and it has its cost.

There is a cost to everything and that cost is my private life.

Everyone wants to know where I live, what I do, sometimes I don't feel that I have privacy.

I feel that a very young woman like myself when I won the Nobel Peace prize, it put me in a place where I had to limit myself, and limit my freedom. Especially as a young person because we like our liberty, we like to fly, express ourselves, and do whatever we wanted. But for me since I was a young person, I had difficulty being free first because I was a survivor; second because I had overcome much adversity; and third because I am a person of my time and received the Nobel Prize and many people want to look at me as though I am perfect, like a woman who canít commit any error, to be perfect. But this is very difficult for a person like me, because I am a woman with sentiments, heart, with goals and the most important is that I feel I have accomplished most of my goals. I have accomplished the majority, but some I will never accomplish, but I am a woman who also dreams, I am creative, I use the sewing machine, I know how to make a lot of things, because I am self-teaching.

I believe for young people the most important thing is to combine their professional lives, their technical lives with a self-teaching experience. Self-teaching means to leave university classes and schools for a while and to immerse yourself in the life of the community and accompany the people in their processes of change. This has been what Iíve been able to do.

For example, sometimes I'm with very powerful people but other times I'm with people with no water, no light, nothing to eat. In sum, I believe that I am a woman who does not disdain the poor. Some people disdain the poor and I think that this is what differentiates me from many people. Many times I live in the countryside with humble people. Humble people have wisdom, experience, rights and I respect these people.

But finally I would say that my life is the life of a pilgrim. I have walked much in the middle of many cultures. I value all cultures, Iíve wanted to know all cultures and I think to know them is a very precious thing at the end of this millenium. Hopefully, people will learn not to be racists, because racism limits our vision. Being open to universal cultures, one learns a lot of things, and that is also what has changed in my life.

I don't look at Guatemala as the big country in the world, it's a small country filled with so many values. And I look at the world as a huge garden also filled with values within which I can develop, not only to develop myself within Guatemala. But Iíd like to say that the work I do is also a collective work, the work of many people, many women, of many people who are very ambitious in finding a better future for humanity. People who are very creative, who aspire to make changes, not only in Guatemala, but also in the world. So I am part of a collective work, a collective dream that is born in Guatemala or from the highlands of Chiapas, Bolivia, Ecuador, and from whichever corner of the Americas. There are many women who are dreamers and struggle like myself, and Iím part of that.

Question: Now I have a question from Prospect High School: They want to know what is the conflict between you and the government of Guatemala.

Well I think it's not exactly a conflict between the government and myself. I'm not subject to any political party I respect all the parties, I'm not a part of the government. I've maintained my autonomy as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, as an indigenous woman, but also as president of the Menchu foundation. I have worked to build the foundation, and for it or myself, never to be an instrument of the state. We have some very specific plans and we have our own agenda, from working with international organizations, like the UN, and also an agenda within Guatemala. This is the role of a Nobel Prize recipient. I have decided not to be a government employee and I think I will work like that in the future.

The controversies that exist are about specific cases: for example, we are taking legal action against 25 individuals from the military who committed the last massacre in Guatemala in 1995, the XamŠn case. In that case we have fought very hard with the courts, the judges, the justice system, and also the military. Then to fight against impunity needs a strong voice. I have not only condemned the human rights violations in the past, but I am against impunity, against the justice system that does not work, against improper investigations, for example, the investigation of Monsignor Gerardi, is not correct. This investigation of the assassination of Mr. Gerardi, has lacked substance, has been convenient for some people, in reality, contaminated. So Iím against this. I continue fighting for human rights because, I think this struggle for human rights is not the struggle of a particular epoch, nor just a struggle of the past but it is a permanent struggle, including during a time of democracy and peace, the struggle for human rights should continue.

Therefore, I hope that with the new Guatemalan government weíll have better coordination, better compatibility, but I do not expect to be an employee of the new government. This is very important because, from time to time, people will ask if I will be a presidential candidate, and that, I will not do. I have my own mission for which I am very happy. Within the next month we are working on our agenda for the year 2000, for how to implement the International Year of the Culture of Peace. This International Year of the Culture of Peace must transcend borders and involve all nations, so we can together study a new possibility for creating peace and a new possibility for how to create peace in the world. So Iím involved in these projects and I can't be in Guatemala all the time because my role goes beyond that.

Question: Weíd like to know what you think about the Odyssey program.

First of all, I would like to thank you Odyssey for giving me the opportunity to communicate with thousands of young people and I wish you much success. I think that this program makes Odyssey a global service to education, very innovative, very important, and it puts the Internet and technology to the service of education. I think this is one of the demands that we have made for many years, that technology be at the service of youth in a positive sense; that it be at the service of learning and at the service of a multicultural/multidisciplinary relationship in the area of education.

So, I hope that you continue with this mission, keep working, involve more young people in the history of other nations and also create more international exchanges among young people.

I wish you good luck and success, and above all, that the people and institutions that have supported this program will keep supporting it, without any doubt, because this work that you are doing is very important.

Question: Thank you very much, we've gone beyond our schedule but we'd like to thank you for answering our questions.

I am the one that would like to thank you, first because we were a little bit nervous as this is the first time I've had the opportunity to talk on the Internet. It seems that, for us, the technology so far was only television and radio, but now is the first time I have the opportunity to give an interview on the Internet. I would like to excuse myself that I could not answer all your questions but you can count on me in that I give you all my heart and affection and best wishes. I know that you and the young people will triumph and help to correct all of the things that need to be addressed in this global world in which we live. Thank you very much.

Rigoberta Menchu Tum Chat Transcript
Rigoberta Home | Guatemala | Rigoberta's Story
Home | Teacher Zone
OSINT Internet Service Provider WebCast Solutions NetShaman