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Friday January 15, 1999

I, Rigoberta Menchu

By Amy Williams, Assoc. Editor

     FRESNO - Professor Robert Stoll of Middlebury College has, this week, unearthed and revealed that a modern Liberal Studies icon of the Multicultural college curriculum, the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchu is a fraud.
     Much of Ms. Menchu's supposed autobiography of her life in Quatamala in the late 1950's is contained in the 1987 book I, Rigoberta Menchu and it apparently contained many fabrications, as well. Never the less, Ms. Menchu's defenders are already claiming that the dishonesty of her account is of no consequence, because her words are "metaphorically true".
      However, in the interest of fairness and justice, Ms. Menchu should be required to surrender the Nobel Peace Prize medal awarded to her under false pretences.
     It was widely known that in Guatemala, Indians had no rights as citizens. Rigoberta Menchu's account has her father fighting as a rebel leader against the government which was taking the Indians' land by force. One of her brothers was depicted as "tortured and killed in front of her and her family" because of what she claimed was her father's anti government activity. She wrote that her mother and father were killed soon after. On the surface that would appear believable because it is known that at least 50,000 Indians had been killed or, at least, had disappeared in Guatemala during its 30 year civil war.
     Rigoberta Menchu says she survived because as a child, she was able to make it to Mexico where she began writing her 'autobiography.' She claims that she and her sisters then joinedthe guerrilla movement against the government.
     Her exciting and tragic tale won the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize and focussed world wide attention on the atrocities perpetrated against Indians by the Guatemalan government.
      Ms. Menchu says she used all her Nobel Peace Prize money to set up a 'foundation to fight for human rights.'
     Millions of university students in the U.S. know that story and it has become sacred ground to the Multiculturalism Curriculum in U.S. Universities.
     Some readers of the 'autobiography' thought it odd that Ms. Manchu had a seemingly confused rendition of the contemporary political setting there. The all important links between the peasant and guerrilla movements were not mentioned. In spite of obvious lapses, Rigoberta Menchu and her book obtained the Nobel Prize. Now, the veracity of her story has been challenged. If her words are false, then Ms. Rigoberta Manchu may have obtained the Nobel Peace Prize through fraud and mirepresentation.
      More of the ultimate truth began to emerge this week in well documented research that exposes major portions of the book, I, Rigoberta Menchu as fraudulent.
      Professor, David Stoll of Middlebury College published his findings in a new book, Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans based on more than 120 interviews in Ms. Menchu's hometown, reports that key events detailed in the autobiography could not have taken place, and that the author's description of herself and her family conflicts with the historical record.
     Hearing of the fraud, the New York Times has now sent one of its investigative reporters to Guatemala in an attempt to verify Ms. Menchu's claims in the supposed 'autobiography'.
     Thousands of University faculty members who teach the autobiography this semester plan to go right on teaching it. They say it doesn't matter if the facts in the book are false, because they believe Ms. Menchu. They say it speaks to a greater truth about the oppression of poor people in Central America.
     "I think Rigoberta Menchu has been used by the right to negate the very important space that Multiculturalism is providing in academia," says Marjorie Agosin, head of the Spanish Department at Wellesley College. "Whether her book is true or not, I don't care ... We should teach our students about the brutality of the Guatemalan military and the U.S. financing of it," anyway.
     Professor Stoll, the Middlebury anthropologist, contends Ms. Menchu's book contains a leftist message and the partisan message should not be represented in colleges as "truth." He told Bulldog Newspaper reporters "Books like I, Rigoberta Menchu will be exalted by some academics ... its what they want to hear."


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