Sep 22, 2022 - World

Nobel laureate says she's hopeful despite Guatemalan government crackdown

Photo illustration of Rigoberta Menchú

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Indigenous rights activist Rigoberta Menchú Tum says she sees signs of hope in her native Guatemala despite the government’s intensifying crackdown on journalists and anti-corruption prosecutors.

State of play: President Alejandro Giammattei's government over the past couple of years has charged or jailed nearly two dozen prosecutors working on anti-corruption cases and journalists whose coverage exposed government wrongdoing, according to local media reports.

What she’s saying: In an interview with Axios conducted after she spoke at a summit on digital innovation in Mexico City last week, Menchú Tum said she is optimistic despite the crackdown.

  • Menchú Tum cited the legal victory for a group of Mayan women sexually assaulted by members of a paramilitary group during the civil war as one reason to be encouraged. The men were each convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison this year.
  • The women’s determination to push that case forward “shows Guatemala is still the cradle of many brave people,” Menchú Tum said.
  • “I think it’s a blessing that we lived through an era of such violence and are still alive, and having life compels us to keep fighting against impunity, violence, femicide … to prove that violence, discrimination, racism should not and will not be forgotten,” Menchú Tum told Axios Latino.

Flashback: Menchú Tum was born in 1959, a year before Guatemala’s civil war broke out, in a remote community that is majority Mayan K'iche'.

  • Her dad, mom and younger brother were murdered at separate times in the late 1970s as part of a government campaign against Indigenous peoples and anyone considered a “subversive domestic enemy.”
  • She was forced to flee to Mexico in 1981 over her activism and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.

More than 200,000 people — over 80% of them Mayan — were assassinated or forcibly disappeared in Guatemala between 1960 and 1996, according to a UN-backed report from a truth commission.

Subscribe to Axios Latino to get vital news about Latinos and Latin America, delivered to your inbox on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Go deeper