Rigoberta Menchu Essay, Research Paper
Rigoberta Menchu: A cry for justice
In recent years, a new voice has been added to the world stage. It is the voice of Latin American women. Long oppressed both by their culture and their governments, these voices have risen in protest against the inequalities and injustices that have plagued their lives. The most notable example of this new genre to emerge thus far was published in 1992 and subsequently won the Nobel Peace prize for its author, Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan Indian activist.
Menchu’s account of life in Guatemala is a tale of horror and savagery perpetrated on all those who would dare to try to improve the lives of Guatemala’s downtrodden. For the “crimes” of teaching people how to read, organizing labor, or even protesting despicable conditions, people are routinely
tortured in ways that rival the Spanish Inquisition. After continuous, unbelievable torture in which he was maimed beyond belief, Menchu recounts that she watched while soldiers burned her younger brother alive (177). He was sixteen and the excuse offered for this treatment was that he was a communist.
Americans like to think of themselves as the “good guys” to the country that beat Hitler, rebuilt post-World War II Europe with the Marshall Plan, and won the Cold War so that the world would be safe from tyranny of communism. What most Americans don’t know even today is that there is an excellent statistical chance that the men who tortured and brutally murdered Menchu’s brother learned these hideous skills in the United States. The U.S. government actually runs a school just for this purpose at Fort Benning, Georgia, the infamous School of the Americas. Publicly, the School is supposed to promote the education of Latin American leaders in the principles of democracy. It’s hard for many Americans to believe that their country, which was built on the principles of liberty and justice, would engage in the activities that have been alleged by the School. Part of what the School teaches is how to intimidate the people into submission through public displays of savagery that graphically display the consequences of pursuing their rights. Menchu could have easily been intimidated into silence. This was the stated purpose of the public display of
savagery in which her brother was killed. However, in Menchu’s case, and for more and more brave women and men in Latin America, it only served to feed the fires of her activism. Menchu has dedicated her life to alerting the world to the savagery that passes for government in Latin America. Her voice has been added to others, and together they are drawing back the curtain of propaganda that has been foisted on the American public regarding U.S. policy in these countries.
Voices such as Menchu’s are revealing the truth about the role that the U.S. has taken in Latin America since the end of World War II. Throughout the Cold War era, the U.S. supported right-wing fascist regimes with the rationalization that at least these regimes kept communism from developing in this hemisphere. Menchu’s account shows the truth behind these so-called “communists.” Menchu’s people weren’t interested in communism; they were interested in simple survival.
Part of their survival tactics included implementing village defenses against government soldiers, they dug traps and hid them with branches. Menchu relates how they captured a soldier in such a trap. The people of the village weren’t sure what to do with the soldier. They eventually told him that if
he would tie all of his weapons to a rope that they would drop down and send them out first, they would release him. This occurred, and then the village people simply talked to the soldier, who was a fellow Indian, as to why the army
was indulging in such villainy. The boy broke down and explained how he had been conscripted into the army against his will and forced to conform to army life. He was told that they were all communists and if he didn’t kill them, he’d be
killed himself. On the condition that he hides from the army and commit no further evil, the villagers let the boy-soldier go. Thus, it can be seen that fascist principles that propel this violence impacts those who perpetrate it as well as the
None of this narrative fits with the “official” story that is generally put out by the U.S. government in regards to such regimes. These accounts always picture noble government forces fighting back the insidious spread of communism. The picture Menchu paints of systematic, brutal oppression in
retaliation for the slightest signs of independent thought is also consistent with the accounts of other voices coming from Latin America.
Government documents that have recently been declassified reveal the thinking behind the formation of the School of the Americas and the formulation of Cold War foreign policy towards Latin America in general. The U.S. faced communist aggression on multiple fronts. U.S. leaders felt that a “war
time” mentality was appropriate considering the threat that communism posed during the Cold War to U.S. national security.
The Cold War is over. Nevertheless, much of Latin America is still suffering under leadership that was trained in the arts of repression at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Voices such as Menchu’s are revealing the lies behind the United States’ cover story. It’s time that the U.S. faced up to its
role in this problem, and it is certainly past the time for the School of the Americas to be permanently closed.
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Marrin, Patrick. “Father Roy: Inside the School of the Assassins,” National Catholic Reporter, v34 n23 (1998): April, pp. 17-18.
Menchu, Rigoberta. I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala (edited and introduction by Burgos-Debray, Elisabeth; translated by Wright, Ann) (New York: Verso, 1984).
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