Rigoberta Menchu Books

I am more interested in Guatemala's future than its past - the past is where we look for reasons and excuses, the future is what our thoughts and actions can shape.

The Guatemalan army (with way too much help from the US Government) wreaked havoc, Vietnam-style, on the Guatemalan people, killing perhaps 87% of them in the national conflict. The EGP rebels are "credited" with the other 13%. And my best guess is that some of those killings were local feuds and conflicts that cloaked themselves in the mantle of whatever killers were most amenable to killing the targets of the feud. Why take the risk of shooting your enemy yourself when you can get the army (or the rebels) to do it for you?

Guatemala is a mostly failed state. Many good people are trying to fix that, working to build local infrastructure, employment, health, education, and venues for conflict resolution. Those are the people I hope Server Sky can help.

I, Rigoberta Menchu - an Indian Woman in Guatemala ... 1983

Sad to say, I have not read this yet. There are no copies in local libraries (PSU is supposed to have a copy, but it is missing from the shelf). However, I bought a copy at Powell's last week, so I hope to read it. From what I've read in Stoll (below), it is a "story" but not a biography.

I will read the book and expand this. I intend to find useful insights into ordinary Guatemalan lives, and hope to find much to agree with.

Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans ... by David Stoll, 1999

Interesting book. Stoll claims that Menchu's book contains representative stories of real Guatemalans, but not the actual story of Menchu and her relatives. Rigoberta's brother and mother were kidnapped and killed by the army - but she was not a witness to either, and both those sad endings were given horrific stories instead of ... nobody knows. Her father died in a fire during the seizure of the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City - the embassy was stormed by Guatemalan police, but the fire was set by rebel Molotov cocktails. Vincente Menchu was not a poor Marxist leader - he and his followers had huge tracts of land, and were using the courts to seize more from his wife's Tum family relatives. And Rigoberta was in a Catholic middle school, literate, and fluent in Spanish, when she was supposedly picking coffee on a finca (plantation).

However, she was a good story collector and story teller, and her stories may be the sum of many other true stories. It is certain that telling her story the way she did brought world attention to the Guatemalan conflict, and eventually led to ending it. Would a different story have ended it more quickly? Perhaps, perhaps not. Would her true biography done so? Very likely not. Would her story, plus the stories of hundreds of other Guatemalans, ended the conflict most quickly? That is Stoll's point, I think; because of the myth of a powerful, ready-to-win EGP rebel army with the support of the people, some argued for giving the rebels more time to win - and thus the Army more time to kill the unarmed people that the rebel army (formed and led by ladinos) was unable to defend.

Of course, the Marxist anthropologists found it most convenient ideologically to claim Menchu's story is the absolute truth, and all the other stories collected by Stoll and others were fear-shrouded mistakes, or worse. Stoll has been roundly castigated by his colleagues (Arias collected many diatribes by anthropologists who seemingly never actually read his book), which is to be expected. Stoll castigated them first. Stoll's book does not scorn Menchu, just her frothing-at-the-mouth academic groupies. The anthropological emperor (excuse me, People's Congress) has no clothes.

This Stoll book does have some interesting tidbits: "superación" is overcoming, surmounting, improvement, and the focus of many Guatemalans. If we can help Guatemalans "get ahead" of their situation (as opposed to only their neighbors), then they can build a strong society of healthy relationships with their neighbors. Revolution by invention and advancement, not bullets and theft.

Between Two Armies in the Ixil Towns of Guatemala ... by David Stoll, 1993

A long book (I read only the first half) with a short message - most rural Guatemalans did not want a war, they just wanted to get along, and improve their situation. They were exploited - principally by alcohol and cofradías, and the loan sharks who paid for those, then seized their collateral land when they could not pay. Some of that land was sold to finca owners - and some was sold to other, more prudent small land owners.

But the solution to Guatemala's problems is not "more land for all"; there are way too many "all" for the rurals to return to self-sufficient farming. The graph on page 29 is telling; the population of the Cucamatán highlands plummeted from 260,000 in 1520 to 15,000 in 1700, mostly due to disease. Then it started climbing, exponentially; 150,000 in 1900, 210,000 in 1940, 660,000 in 1980 - skyrocketing in spite of the army's killings. Guatemala's population has more than doubled since then. Overpopulation, land depletion, plagues and crashes are not new to the region - paleontologists have found evidence of more crashes in the past. What can be new is helping Guatemalans get educated (educated women have fewer children) and find high-quality non-agricultural employment. Guatemalans are 36% denser than Californians, but have 8% of the income. On the other hand, the Hong Kong SAR is 50 times denser than Guatemala, and has higher income than California. Land is not necessary for success.

So, what to say, what to do? Dredging the past, as Stoll does, might help anthropologists replace ideology with observation. Maybe not, they may be unredeemable. It does warn the rest of us about the unreliability of anthropologists. But it tells us little about the future. Regards the stories of Guatemala itself - ask many, many Guatemalans. Get ALL their stories, as truthfully as possible, unedited and unjudged, even if the stories are inconsistent, contradictory, repetitive, ideologically incorrect, even banal. I hope Server Sky can help collect those millions of stories - we can't count on the "professionals" to select, edit, and "interpret" many stories into one.

RigobertaMenchu (last edited 2015-07-20 05:49:04 by KeithLofstrom)