On October 16, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, heir of the Maya-Quiché people of Guatemala, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee recognized in Rigoberta Menchú "a symbol of peace and reconciliation 500 years after Christopher Columbus' arrival to America," underscoring that she is a "vivid symbol of peace and reconciliation despite the ethnic, cultural and social divisions in her country, the American continent and the world."
Only a week before, Rigoberta Menchú had been in Nicaragua to attend the III Encounter of the Continental Campaign of 500 Years of Indigenous, Black and Grassroots Resistance, held in Managua from October 7-12. During her stay, she was given an honorary doctorate in Humanities from the Central American University (UCA). The UCA paid homage to her "contribution to the defense of human rights and the indigenous peoples of Latin America, particularly in her country, for more than 15 years," describing her as "a dignified and distinguished representative of the indigenous peoples of our continent."
Rigoberta Menchú's personal denunciations of the marginalization of the continent's indigenous peoples, of which she and her family have been victims, praised UCA rector Xabier Gorostiaga, have "contributed to educating international public opinion about these very serious problems." He noted that she has become "a genuine representative of the indigenous peoples and popular majorities of Central and Latin America, reclaiming the right to freedom and to the life of our cultures, principles shared by the Society of Jesus and the Central American University of Nicaragua."
Father Gorostiaga also recognized that Menchú has been a "Christian leader in her indigenous community, daughter and sister of martyrs, participating since age 10 in pastoral activities, deeply dedicated to an evangelizing mission in favor of the most oppressed and to the formation of an autochthonous church in Guatemala."
Addressing an overflow crowd in the UCA auditorium, Gorostiaga said Rigoberta Menchú "is endowed with a knowledge coming from her ancestral heritage and her profound humanism, contributing analyses of a quality superior even to that of experts and academics." She has received similar recognition from the University of Cochabama in Bolivia and the University of Oklahoma and Columbia University in the United States.
Receiving her degree, Dr. Rigoberta Menchú Tum declared she would not address those assembled as an academic, but rather "as a woman and as one of the millions of the poor in our continent, one of the men and women who have been victims of repression and impunity in Guatemala and Latin America." She called for a "more global relation of respect for nature and Mother Earth," pointing out that this aspect is, "in these moments, one of the most important elements that we as indigenous people can contribute to humanity," and emphasizing that "today knowledge, science and technology represent a threat to life, when they should be at the service of life."
She defended indigenous peoples' right to "scientific development, but without losing sight of the human element and without forgetting that it should be directed to integrated development and to the dignity of each person as an individual and as a people, because when that is lost, the essence of education is lost and human beings become mere objects of study rather than subjects of history."
Along with the people of Nicaragua, we join in the joy of the indigenous peoples of Guatemala and that the poor, marginalized and oppressed peoples of Abya Yala* and the entire world at the Nobel Committee's recognition of Rigoberta Menchú and the struggle for Latin American liberation.
*Abya Yala, the name adopted by the 500 Year Campaign for the continent known by the conquerors as America, is in the language of the Kuna people of Panama. According to a Kuna elder, Abya Yala is the continent's original name, its "own name." In its "most profound sense, it is all wealth, it is mother and the love she has toward her children, love made flesh through birth. It is production, peace and the profound love the Creator put in the whole world."