NEW YORK (AP) -- A Nobel laureate has conceded that she used
the testimony of other victims to construct her own story of
Guatemala's civil war, but defended the book as a testimonial that
accurately depicts the suffering of her people.
"I was a survivor, alone in the world, who had to convince the world to
at the atrocities committed in my homeland," Rigoberta Menchu said at a
news conference Thursday.
She asked her New York audience to instead focus attention on the need
investigate and prosecute the massacres, kidnappings and widespread
torture during Guatemala's 36-year civil war.
Menchu became a powerful human rights advocate after the 1983
publication of "I, Rigoberta Menchu," a wrenching story of an Indian child
whose family was caught in the war that killed an estimated 100,000 people
and left another 40,000 missing and presumed dead.
She won the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, which was hailed as recognition of
the struggle for indigenous rights 500 years after the Spanish conquest of the
"The book that is being questioned is a testimonial that mixes my personal
testimony and the testimony of what happened in Guatemala," she said. "The
book that is being questioned is not my biography."
'A symbol for a lot of excluded people'
Menchu disputed the research of U.S. anthropologist David Stoll, who
challenged claims that she had no formal education, that she watched a
brother being burned to death by Guatemalan soldiers, and that a brother,
Nicolas, had died of malnutrition.
Menchu said she worked as a maid at a Roman Catholic boarding school
but was not a regular student. She said she omitted mentioning the nuns who
gave her literacy classes to avoid making them targets of retribution during
The indigenous activist said an investigation being done by her aides has
located the death certificate of the brother, whom she originally said was
burned to death. Survivors have told her he was shot to death by
Guatemalan army troops.
Menchu also said her parents had two boys named Nicolas -- a common
practice among Guatemala's Maya majority -- and that one of them had
died. She referred requests for more information to her Guatemala
The U.S. National Council of Churches sponsored Menchu's visit to New
York to give her the chance to answer criticism.
"We feel that Rigoberta is a symbol for a lot of excluded people in Latin
America and around the world," said Rev. Oscar Bolioli, director of the
group's Latin America office. "We feel that this campaign to destroy her
name is unjust."