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I, Rigoberta Menchu, Liar
By: David Horowitz
Tuesday, January 12, 1999


ONE OF THE GREATEST HOAXES of the Twentieth Century, the story of Rigoberta Menchu, a Quiche Mayan from Guatemala, whose autobiography catapulted her to international fame, won her the Nobel Peace Prize, and made her an international emblem of the dispossessed indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere and their attempt to rebel against the oppression of European conquerors, has now been exposed as a political fabrication, a tissue of lies.
ONE OF THE GREATEST HOAXES of the Twentieth Century, the story of Rigoberta Menchu, a Quiche Mayan from Guatemala, whose autobiography catapulted her to international fame, won her the Nobel Peace Prize, and made her an international emblem of the dispossessed indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere and their attempt to rebel against the oppression of European conquerors, has now been exposed as a political fabrication, a tissue of lies.

Equally remarkable, and indicative of the cultural power of the perpetrators of this hoax, the revelation of Rigobertas mendacity has changed nothing. The Nobel committee has already refused to take back her prize; the thousands of college courses that make her book a required text for American college students will continue to do so; and the editorial writers of the major press institutions have already defended her falsehoods on the same grounds that supporters of Tawana Brawleys parallel hoax made famous: even if shes lying, shes telling the truth.

The 1982 autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchu, which launched the hoax was actually written by a French leftist, Elisabeth Burgos-Debray. She is the wife of the Marxist, Regis Debray, who provided the "foco" strategy for Che Guevaras failed effort to foment a guerilla war in Bolivia in the 1960s. Debrays misguided theory got Guevara and an undetermined number of Bolivian peasants killed and, as we shall see, is at the root of the tragedies that overwhelmed Rigoberta Menchu and her family.

As told in her autobiography, the story of Rigoberta is a classic Marxist myth. The Menchus were a poor Mayan family living on the margins of a country from which they had been dispossessed by the Spanish conquistadors, whose descendants are known as ladinos, and who try to drive the Menchus and other Indian peasants off unclaimed land that they had cultivated. The child Rigoberta was illiterate. Her peasant father, Vicente, refused to send her to school because he needed her to work in the fields. So poor is the Menchu family because of their lack of land that Rigoberta has to watch her younger brother die of starvation. Meanwhile, her father is engaged in a heroic but ultimately hopeless battle with the ladino masters of the land for a plot to cultivate. Finally, Vicente organizes a resistance movement called the Committee for Campesino Unity to advance the land claims of the indigenas against the ladino masters. Rigoberta becomes a political organizer too. The resistance movement links up with a Guatemalan revolutionary force called the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (ERG). To suppress the roused people, the brutal security forces of the conquistadors are called into the fray and eventually prevail. The family is forced to watch Rigobertas brother burned alive. Vicente Menchu is killed. Rigobertas mother is raped and killed.

As told by Rigoberta, the tragedy of the Menchus is "the story of all Guatemalas poor." It is a call to people of good will all over the world to help the good but powerless indigenous peoples of Guatemala and other Third World countries to their rightful inheritance. Made internationally famous by the success of her book and by the Nobel Prize she was awarded in 1992, Rigoberta is now head of the Rigoberta Menchu Foundation for Human Rights and a spokesperson for the cause of "social justice and peace."

Unfortunately for this political fantasy, virtually everything that Rigoberta has written is a lie. Her lies, moreover, are neither incidental nor accidental. They are lies about the central events and facts of her story, and they have been concocted to shape its political content, to create a specific political myth. This begins on the very first page of her text:

When I was older, my father regretted my not going to school, as I was a girl able to learn many things. But he always said: "Unfortunately, if I put you in school, theyll make you forget your class; theyll turn you into a ladino. I dont want that for you and thats why I dont send you." He might have had the chance to put me in school when I was about fourteen or fifteen but he couldnt do it because he knew what the consequences would be: the ideas that they would give me.

To the unsuspecting reader, this looks like an all-too perfect realization of the Marxist paradigm, in which the ruling ideas become the ideas of the ruling class through its control of the means of education. But, contrary to her assertions, Rigoberta was not uneducated. Nor did her father oppose her education because he feared it would indoctrinate her in the values of the ladino ruling class. Her father, in fact, sent her to two prestigious private boarding schools, operated by Catholic nuns, where she received the equivalent of a middle-school education. (Although it has not been established, it is probably there, in a telling irony, that she was recruited to the Marxist faith, and became a spokesperson for Communist guerrillas.) Because Rigoberta was indeed away at boarding school for most of her youth, her detailed accounts of herself laboring eight months a year on coffee and cotton plantations and organizing a political underground are also probably false.

These and other pertinent details have now been established by anthropologist David Stoll, one of the leading academic experts on Guatemala, who interviewed more than 120 Guatemalans, including relatives, friends, neighbors, and former teachers and classmates, over a ten-year period, as the basis of his new biography, Rigoberta Menchu And The Story of All Poor Guatemalans. To coincide with the publication of Stolls book, the New York Times sent reporter, Larry Rohter, to Guatemala to attempt to verify Stolls findings, which he did.

Perhaps the most salient of Stolls findings is the way in which Rigoberta has distorted the sociology of her family situation, and that of the Mayans in the region of Uspantan. Rigoberta had no brother who starved to death, at least none that her own family could remember. The ladinos were not a ruling caste in Rigobertas town or district, in which there were no large estates or fincas as she claims. The Menchus, moreover, were not poor in the way Rigoberta describes them. Vicente Menchu had title to 2,753 hectares of land. The 22-year land dispute described by Rigoberta, which is the central event in the book leading to the rebellion and the tragedies that followed was, in fact, over a tiny 151 hectare parcel of land. Most importantly, Vicente Menchus "heroic struggle against the landowners who wanted to take our land" was in fact not a dispute with representatives of a European-descended conquistador class but with his own Mayan relatives, the Tum family, headed by his wifes uncle.

Vicente Menchu did not organize a peasant resistance called the Committee for Campesino Unity, and was a conservative insofar as he was political at all. His consuming passion was not any social concern, but the family feud with his in-laws, who were small landowning peasants like himself. It was his involvement in this feud that caused him to be caught up in the larger political drama, that was really irrelevant to his concerns and that ultimately killed him.

At the end of the Seventies, Cubas Communist dictator, Fidel Castro, launched a new turn in Cuban foreign policy, sponsoring and arming a series of guerrilla offensives in Central AmericaNicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemalaalong lines laid down by Regis Debray and Che Guevara a decade before. The leaders of these movements were generally not Indians but Hispanics, principally the disaffected middle- and upper-class scions of the ruling castes of those countries. They were often the graduates of cadre training centers in Moscow and Havana, and of terrorist training camps in Lebanon and East Germany. (The leaders of the Salvadoran guerillas even included a Lebanese Communist and Shiite Muslim named Shafik Handal.)

One of these forces, the Guerrilla Army of the Poor, showed up in Uspantan, the largest township near Rigobertas village, on April 29, 1979. According to eyewitnesses, they painted everything within reach red, grabbed the tax collectors money and threw it in the streets, tore down the jail, released the prisoners, and chanted in the town square "Were defenders of the poor" for fifteen or twenty minutes.

None of the guerillas was masked because none of them was local. As strangers, they had no understanding of the Uspantan situation in which virtually all the land disputes were between the Mayan inhabitants themselves. Instead, they perceived things according to the Marxist textbook version perpetuated now by Rigoberta and the Nobel Prize committee, and executed two local ladino landholders. Thinking that the guerrillas were now the power in his region, Vicente Menchu cast his fate with them by providing them with a meeting place, and accompanying them on a protest. But the Guatemalan security forces, primed for the hemispheric offensive that Castro had launched, quickly descended on the region with characteristic brutality. They were abetted by enraged relatives of the murdered ladino peasants seeking revenge on the leftist assassins. The violence this triggered resulted in the deaths of many innocents, including Rigobertas parents and a second brother (although it is certain that Rigoberta did not witness his death as she falsely claims).

The most famous incident in Rigobertas book is the occupation of the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City in January, 1980, by a group of guerrillas and protesting peasants. Vicente Menchu was the peasant spokesman. The occupation itself was led by the Robin Garcia Revolutionary Student Front. A witness, recorded by David Stoll, described how Vicente was primed for his role:

They would tell Don Vicente, "Say, The people united will never be defeated, " and Don Vicente would say, "The people united will never be defeated." They would tell Don Vicente, "Raise your left hand when you say it," and he would raise his left hand.

When they had set out on their trip, the Uspantan peasants who accompanied the student revolutionaries to the Spanish embassy had no idea where they were going or what the purpose of the trip was. Later, David Stoll interviewed a survivor whose husband had died in the incident. She told him that the journey originated in a wedding party at the Catholic church in Uspantan. Two days after the ceremony, the wedding party moved on. "The senores said they were going to the coast, but they arrived at the capital." Once there, the student revolutionaries proceeded with their plan to occupy the embassy and take hostages, with the unsuspecting Mayans ensnared. Although the cause of the tragedy that ensued is in dispute, David Stoll presents persuasive evidence that a Molotov cocktail brought by the students ignited and set the embassy on fire. At least 39 people, including Vicente Menchu, were killed.

As a result of Stolls research, Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu has been exposed as a Communist agent working for terrorists who were ultimately responsible for the death of her own family. So rigid is Rigobertas party loyalty to the Castroist cause that she refused to denounce the Sandinista dictatorships genocidal attempt to eliminate its Miskito Indians, despite billing herself as a champion of indigenous peoples. She even broke with her own translator, Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, over the issue of the Miskitos (Burgos-Debray, along with other prominent French leftists had protested the attacks).

Rigobertas response to this exposure of her lies has been, on the one hand, "no comment" and, on the other, to add another liethe denial that she had anything to do with the book that made her famous. David Stoll listened to two hours of the tapes she made for Burgos-Debray (which provided the text for the book) and has concluded that the narrative they recorded is identical to the (false) version of the facts recorded in the book itself.

The fictional story of Rigoberta Menchu is a piece of Communist propaganda designed to incite hatred of Europeans, westerners, and the societies they have built, and to build support for Communist and terrorist organizations at war with the democracies of the West. It has become the single most influential social treatise read by American college students. Over 15,000 theses have been written on Rigoberta Menchu the world overall accepting her lies as gospel. The Nobel Prize committee has made Rigoberta an international figure and spokesperson for "social justice and peace."

In an editorial responding to these revelations, the Los Angeles Times typically glossed over the enormity of what Rigoberta, the Guatemalan terrorists, the French left, the international community of "human rights" leftists, the Nobel Prize committee fellow-travelers, and the tenured radicals who dominate the American academic community have wrought. The Times did recognize that something had gone amiss: "After the initial lies, the international apparatus of human-rights activism, journalism, and academia pitched into exaggerate the dire condition of the peasants when a simple recounting of the truth would have been enough."

But would it? If it would have been enough, then Rigobertas lies would have been unnecessary. If there was any truth in the myth itself, the Guatemalan guerrillas would not have been wiped out in two or three years. The fact is that there was no social ground for the armed insurrection that these Castroists tried to force on Guatemalas poor, any more than there was for Guevaras suicidal effort in Bolivia years before. Ultimately, the source of the violence and ensuing misery that Rigoberta Menchu describes in her destructive little book is the left itself, and the leftist intelligentsia in particular. Too bad, it hasnt the decency to acknowledge this, and to leave the Third World alone.


David Horowitz is the founder of The David Horowitz Freedom Center and author of the new book, One Party Classroom.