Rigoberta Menchu: The Next Political Challenge

This week Reuters carried a report “Menchu eyes Guatemalan presidency“. The ritual dance between presidential candidates without a party and political parties without a presidential candidate is well and truely underway. It”s now a normal part of the preparations for elections in Guatemala.

The weakness of the political parties is blamed for all manner of problems. It”s notable that since the civilian presidency of Vinicio Cerezo in 1986, that there have not been two Presidents from the same political party. That said, the rigid system of political parties in the UK, US and Canada is not without its critics. Ultimately, all are vulnerable to same criticism that hurts all political parties- that they are not rooted in a healthy expanding membership base.

So could Rigoberta Menchu, whose mandate as spokesperson has often been questioned as more self-appointed that formally appointed by any membership base, inspire the Guatemalan electorate? I was taken aback when I first went to Guatemala by the contrast between how Menchu is viewed outside Guatemala to how she is viewed on the inside. There”s no doubt that a lot of this has to do with a certain latent racism as characterised by the jokes mocking her accent. Perhaps for this reason, her legal victory against her tormentors in her legal battle against Rios Montt”s presidential candidacy was all the sweeter.

If she does go for the presidency there”s no doubt her past will again be put under enormous scrutiny. There won”t be any shortage of commentators who”ll remind the public of her insurgent past. Others who”ll question her credentials and association with the current government. And yet others who”ll recall the moment she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 (see above) and point to her work to bring the human rights abusers to justice. Does her polemical past make her more or less likely to triumph in the current Guatemalan electoral system? Nobody knows in the long run. For now, watch this space.

Update (08-02-2007)

Rigoberta Menchu will be a presidential candidate. This from Siglo XXI:

Rigoberta Menchu, premio Nobel de la Paz 1992, decidio que si participara como candidata a la Presidencia de la Republica en los comicios de septiembre, y solo falta definir con que partido. Sin embargo, es casi un hecho que acepte la invitacion de Encuentro por Guatemala (EG), el cual lidera Nineth Montenegro, con cuya dirigencia se reunira el viernes para discutir cuales seran las “cuotas de poder” que le ofrecen.

Update (09-02-2007)

According to a report from Cerigua, Menchu would do well to consult the grassroots on her candidacy in the presidential elections in September:

“Jorge Morales, uno de los organizadores de la III Cumbre Continental de Pueblos y Nacionalidades Indigenas de America Latina, que se llevara a cabo en Guatemala en marzo proximo, senalo que la virtual candidatura de Menchu, Premio Nobel de la Paz y funcionaria del gobierno de la Gran Alianza Nacional, es positiva, pero debe acercarse a las bases comunitarias para conocer el pensamiento de este conglomerado.”

Update (18-02-07)

The rumours are flying hither and thither, so while it”s still difficult to say exactly, it”s appearing that Rigoberta Menchu”s probable candidacy is generating all sorts of shifting around of the previously slightly more predictable political landscape in Guatemala. Gerardo Garcia, Vice President of Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) in Bolivia reportedly declared in Guatemala at the Encuentro de Participacion Politica de Pueblos Indigenas that Evo Morales, Bolivian President backs Menchu”s bid to become Guatemalan President.

However, in a twist in developments, Menchu announced the grouping called Winaq (humanity) which is being reported as acting potentially as a more direct base to Menchu”s political ambitions:

El movimiento esta integrado por Otilia Lux de Coti, ex ministra de Cultura (under FRG); Ricardo Cajas, ex presidente de la Comision Presidencial contra el Racismo; el abogado indigena Amilcar Pop y Byron Morales, fundador de Unsitragua.”

Lux de Coti has denied that Morales is providing any direct support to Winaq. Certainly on the face of it MAS and Winaq seem to be light years away in terms of their political development. But who”s to say Winaq can not find inspiration in the example of MAS. Whatever, this means in the long term, in the short short term this announcement seems to have put back discussions that Menchu had been having with two political parties: Encuentro Por Guatemala (EG) and the URNG. In particular Nineth Montenegro of EG seems to be having serious second thoughts:

“Si el objetivo (de Winaq) es ser un partido politico, de llegar al Congreso se separarian de la bancada y, de tener la mitad del comite ejecutivo, dividirian al partido (EG)”, explico Montenegro.

In other words, Montenegro fears that the alliance with Menchu (and hence with Winaq with its own political agenda) would very likely divide the EG as soon as it reached Congress.

Background

Rigoberta Menchu has certainly been at the centre of many a polemic- here we bring together just a tiny fraction that”s been said about her.

The quick mention of Bolivia gives me the opportunity to plug Nick Buxton”s great blog “Open Veins” promoting solidarity with Bolivia. Nick has been living in Bolivia for a good while and has followed MAS”s rise to power amongst many other things.

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Categories: Guatemala, Main Page, UK Press Review, Video

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