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A priceless peace prize.

For the second time in just six years, a Central American has been awarded the world's most distinguished honor for helping to promote peace. In selecting 33-year-old Rigoberta Menchu as winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize the Oslo, Norway-based Nobel panel stated the native of Guatemala is "a vivid symbol of peace and reconciliation ... in her own country, on the American continent and in the world."

The first Latin American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize was Carlos de Saavedra Lamas of Argentina in 1936. Forty-four years later, the prize went to another Argentine, Adolfo Perez Esquivel for his work on behalf of the victims of his country's military dictatorship. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez was singled out for the award in 1987 because of his efforts to resolve the civil war in neighboring Nicaragua. In the past decade, the peace prize has gone, more often than not, to high profile political, spiritual and moral leaders like Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (1990), anti-Nazi activist Elie Wiesel (1986), South African church leader Bishop Desmond Tutu (1984) and Polish union leader Lech Walesa (1983).

The choice of Menchu, a Quiche Indian to whom Spanish is a second language, has proven a popular one during the year of the observance of the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World. Some observers say the award of the prize to a low-profile candidate has served to restore dignity to the Nobel process and reaffirm the original intent of the honor.

In the 12 years since her father and 38 other indigenous leaders perished in a fire at the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City, Menchu has worked tirelessly to publicize the plight of Guatemala's Mayan descendants, who constitute over 55 percent of the country's population of 10 million but have been caught in the crossfire of a bloody, thirty-year civil war. Menchu's mother and a number of her brothers and sisters also fell victim to the ongoing violence. Her 1983 book, "I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala," helped focus international attention on Guatemala's civil strife and launched the young native activist on a decade-long crusade to bring attention to the condition of indigenous peoples in Guatemala and elsewhere.

Menchu, today a resident of Mexico City, called the award "a cry for life and for peace in Guatemala." She plans to use the $1.2 million in prize money to establish a fund in her father's memory.
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Title Annotation:Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu
Author:Holston, Mark
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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