chapter  4
88 Pages

Southern Exposure

Rigoberta Menchu is a disgraced angel. That, in brief, is the thesis of David Stoll's inflammatory volume, much discussed in the international press in the past couple of months. Menchu is the Indian activist from Guatemala on whom the Nobel Committee in Norway bestowed its Peace Prize in 1992, to mark the quincentennial of Columbus's arrival in the Americas. The award was for her campaign on behalf of Central American Indians. In fact, while Menchu enjoyed a considerable reputation in the world at large, to a large extent thanks to her bestselling autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchu (1983), she was then little known in her own country. Stoll, a professor of anthropology at Middlebury College, Vermont, has been pursuing Menchu for more than a decade, ever since, in the course of his doctoral dissertation at Stanford University, he began interviewing Guatemalan peasants in, among other places, Menchu's home town, Chimel, Uspantan, and discovered that segments of her autobiography were gross falsifications. At first, Stoll decided, wisely no doubt, to put his research on hold; Guatemala was still submerged in almost three decades of bloody civil war; peace negotiations between the government and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Union, an umbrella organization of four guerrilla groups, had begun in 1991, but an agreement, sponsored by the United Nations, would not be signed for five more years. If Menchu's character was attacked in the interim, the life of even

more innocent people would be in jeopardy. But as Guatemala settled gradually into an uncomfortable democracy after 1996, Stoll's silence gave way to a shriek.