Prize Acceptance Speech
December 10, 1992]
Your Majesties, the King and Queen of Norway,
the Honorable members of the Nobel Peace Committee, Your Excellency, the Prime
Minister, Your Excellencies, members of the Government and the Diplomatic Corps,
Dear Guatemalan Countrymen and Women, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel a deep emotion and pride for the honor of having been awarded the Nobel
Peace Prize for 1992. A deep personal feeling and pride for my country and its
very ancient culture. For the values of the community and the people to which I
belong, for the love of my country, of Mother Nature. Whoever understands this
respects life and encourages the struggle that aims at such objectives.
I consider this Prize, not as an award to me personally, but rather as one of
the greatest conquests in the struggle for peace, for human rights and for the
rights of the Indigenous people who, along all these 500 years, have been split,
fragmented, as well as the victims of genocide, repression and discrimination.
Please allow me to convey to you all, what this Prize means to me. In my opinion,
the Nobel Peace Prize calls upon us to act in accordance with what it represents,
and the great significance it has worldwide. In addition to being a priceless
treasure, it is an instrument with which to fight for peace, for justice, for
the rights of those who suffer the abysmal economical, social, cultural and
political disparities, typical of the order of the world in which we live, and
where the conversion into a new world based on the values of the human being is
the expectation of the majority of those who live on this planet.
This Nobel Prize represents a standard-bearer that encourages us to continue
denouncing the violation of human rights, committed against the people in
Guatemala, in American and in the world, and to perform a positive role in
respect to the most pressing task in my county, i.e., to achieve peace and
The Nobel Prize is a symbol of peace, and of
the efforts to build up a real democracy. It will stimulate the civil sectors so
that through a solid national unity, these may contribute to the process of
negotiations that seek peace, reflecting the general feeling - although at times
not possible to express because of fear - of the Guatemalan society: to
establish political and legal grounds that will give irreversible impulses to a
solution to as to what initiated the internal armed conflict.
There is no doubt whatsoever that it constitutes a sign of hope in the struggle
of the Indigenous people in the entire continent. It is also a tribute to the
Centro-American people who still search for their stability, for the structuring
of their future, and the path for their development and integration, based on
civil democracy and mutual respect.
The importance of this Nobel Prize has been demonstrated by all the
congratulations received from everywhere, from heads of government - practically
all the American presidents - to the organizations of the Indigenous people and
of human rights, from all over the world. In fact, what they see in this Nobel
Prize is not only a reward and a recognition to a single person, but a starting
point for hard struggle towards the achievement of those revindications that
remain to be complied with.
As a contrast, and paradoxically, it was actually in my own country where I met,
on the part of some people, the strongest objections, reserve and indifference
for the award of the Nobel Prize to this Quiché Indian. Perhaps because in
Latin America, it is precisely in Guatemala where the discrimination towards
natives, towards women, and the repression of the longing for justice and peace,
are more deeply rooted in certain social and political sectors.
Under the present circumstances, in this
convulsed and complex world, the decision of the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize
Committee to award this honorable distinction to me, reflects the awareness of
the fact that, in this way, courage and strength is given to the struggle for
peace, reconciliation and justice; to the struggle against racism, cultural
discrimination, hence contribution to the achievement of harmonious coexistence
between our people.
With deep pain, on one side, but with satisfaction on the other, I have to
inform you that the Nobel Peace Prize 1992 will have to remain temporarily in
Mexico City, in a kind of wake - waiting for peace in Guatemala. Because there
are no political conditions in my country that would indicate or make me foresee
a prompt and just solution. The satisfaction and gratitude are due to the fact
that Mexico, our wonderful neighbor country, that has been so dedicated and
interested, that has made such great efforts in respect to the negotiations that
are being conducted to achieve peace, that has received and admitted so many
refugees and exiled Guatemalans, has given us a place in the Museo del Templo
Mayor (the cradle of the ancient Aztecas) so that the Nobel Prize may remain
there until peaceful and safe conditions are established in Guatemala to place
it there, the land of the Quetzal.
When evaluating the overall significance of the award of the Peace Prize, I
would like to say some words on behalf of all those whose voice cannot be heard
or who have been repressed for having spoken in the manner of an opinion, of all
those who have been marginalized, who have been discriminated against, who live
in poverty, in need, of all those who are the victims of repression and
violation of human rights. Those who, nevertheless, have endured through
centuries, who have not lost their conscience, the quality of determination and
Please allow me, ladies and gentlemen, to say some words about my country and
the Civilization of the Mayas. The Maya people developed and spread
geographically through some 300,000 square km; they occupied parts of the south
of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, as well as Honduras and El Salvador; they
developed a very rich civilization in the area of political organization, as
well as in social and economic fields; they were great scientists in the fields
of mathematics, astronomy, agriculture, architecture and engineering; they were
great artists in the fields of sculpture, painting, weaving and carving.
The Mayas discovered the mathematics ZERO value, at about the same time that it
was discovered in India and later passed on to the Arabs. Their astronomic
forecasts based on mathematic calculations and scientific observations were
amazing, and still are. They prepared a calendar more accurate than the
Gregorian, and in the field of medicine they performed inter-cranial surgical
One of the Maya books, saved from destruction
by the conquerors, known as Códice de Dresden, contains the results of an
investigation on eclipses as well as a table of 69 dates, in which solar
eclipses occur in a lapse of 33 years. Today it is important to emphasize the
deep respect that the Maya civilization had towards life and nature in general.
Who can predict what other great scientific conquests and developments these
people could have achieved, if they had not been conquered in blood and fire,
and subjected to an ethnocide that affected nearly 50 million people in the
course of 500 years.
I would describe the meaning of this Nobel Prize, in the first place, as a
tribute to the Indian people who have been sacrificed and have disappeared
because they aimed at a more dignified and just life with fraternity and
understanding among human beings. To those who are no longer alive to keep up
the hope for a change in the situation in respect to poverty and marginalization
of the Indians, of those who have been banished, of the helpless in Guatemala as
well as in the entire American continent.
This growing concern is comforting, even though it comes 500 years later, to the
suffering, the discrimination, the oppression and the exploitation that our
people have been exposed to, but who, thanks to their own cosmo-vision, and
concept of life, have managed to withstand. Finally, with some promising
prospects, how those roots, that were to be eradicated, now begin to grow with
strength, hopes and visions for the future!
It also represents a sign of the growing international interest for, and
understanding of the original rights of the people, of the future of more than
60 million Indians that live in our America, and their uproar because of the 500
years of oppression that they have endured; for the genocides beyond comparison
that they have had to suffer all this time, and from which other countries and
the elite of the Americas have profited and taken advantage.
Let there be freedom for the Indians, wherever they may be in the American
continent or elsewhere in the world, because while they are alive, a glow of
hope will be alive as well as the real concept of life.
The expressions of great happiness by the Indian Organizations in the entire
continent and the worldwide congratulations received for the award like the
Nobel Peace Prize, clearly indicate the great importance of this decision. It is
the recognition of the European debt to the American Indigenous people; it is an
appeal to the conscience of humanity so that those conditions of marginalization
that condemned them to colonialism and exploitation may be eradicated; it is a
cry for life, peace, justice, equality and fraternity between human beings.
The peculiarities of the vision of the Indian
people are expressed according to the way in which they relate. First of all,
between human beings, through communication. Second, with the earth, as with our
mother, because she gives us our lives and is not a mere merchandise. Third,
with nature, because we are integral parts of it, and not its owners.
To us mother earth is not only a source of economic riches that gives us the
maize, which is our life, but she also provides so many other things that the
privileged ones of today strive after. The earth is the root and the source of
our culture. She keeps our memories, she receives our ancestors and she
therefore demands that we honor her and return to her, with tenderness and
respect, those good that she gives us. We have to take care of her and look
after mother earth so that our children and grandchildren may continue to
benefit from her. If the world does not learn now to show respect to nature,
what kind of future will the new generations have?
From these basic features derive behavior, rights and obligations in the
American continent, for Indians as well as for non-Indians, whether they be
racially mixed, blacks, whites or Asian. The whole society has the obligation to
show mutual respect, to learn from each other and to share material and
scientific achievements, in the most convenient way. The Indians have never had,
and they do not have, the place that they should have occupied in the progress
and benefits of science and technology, although they have represented an
If the Indian civilizations and the European civilizations could have made
exchanges in a peaceful and harmonious manner, without destruction, exploitation,
discrimination and poverty, they could, no doubt, have achieved greater and more
valuable conquests for humanity.
Let us not forget that when the Europeans came to America, there were
flourishing and strong civilizations there. One cannot talk about a discovery of
America, because one discovers that which one does not know about, or that which
is hidden. But America and its native civilizations had discovered themselves
long before the fall of the Roman Empire and Medieval Europe. The significance
of its cultures form part of the heritage of humanity and continue to astonish
the learned ones.
I think it is necessary that the Indian people, of which I am a member, should
contribute with our science and our knowledge to human development because we
have enormous potential and we could integrate our very ancient heritage with
the achievements of the civilization in Europe as well as in other parts of the
But this contribution, that to our understanding is a recovery of the natural
and cultural heritage, must take place based on a rational and consensual plan
in respect to the right to make use of knowledge and natural resources, with
guarantees as to equality both towards government and society.
We the Indians are willing to combine tradition
with modernization, but not at all costs. We will not tolerate nor permit that
our future be planned as possible guardians of ethno-touristic projects at a
At a time when the commemoration of the fifth century of the arrival of Columbus
in America has repercussions all over the world, the revival of hopes for the
Indian people claims that we reassert to the world our existence and the value
of our cultural identity. It demands that we endeavor to actively participate in
the decisions that concern our destiny, in the building-up of our countries/nations.
Should we, in spite of all, not be taken into consideration, there are factors
that guarantee our future: struggle and endurance; courage; the decision to
maintain our traditions that have been exposed to so many perils and sufferings;
solidarity towards our struggle on the part of numerous countries, governments,
organizations and citizens of the world.
That is why I dream of the day when the relationship between the Indigenous
people and other people is strengthened; when they can join their potentialities
and their capabilities and contribute to make life on this planet less unequal.
Today in the 47th period of session of the General Assembly, the United Nations
(UN) will institute 1993 as the International Year of the Indian People, in the
presence of well-known chiefs of the organizations of the Indian people and the
continental resistance movements of Indians, blacks and other people. They will
all formally participate in the opening of the working sessions in order to
claim that 1993 be a year of specific actions to really place the Indian people
within their national contexts and the mutual international agreements.
We hope that the formulation of the project in respect to the Declaration on the
Rights of the Indian People will examine and go deeply into the existing
contradictions between the progress in terms of international rights and the
difficult reality that we, the Indo-Americans, experience in practice.
Our people will have a year dedicated to the problems that afflict them and, in
this respect, are now getting ready to carry out different activities with the
purpose of presenting proposals and putting pressure on actions. All this will
be conducted in the most reasonable way and with the most convincing and
justified arguments for the elimination of racism, oppression, discrimination
and the exploitation of those who have been dragged into poverty and oblivion.
Also, for those who have been doomed, the award of the Nobel Prize represents a
recognition, an encouragement and an objective.
My wish is that a conscious sense of peace and
a feeling of human solidarity would develop in all the people, which could open
new relationships of respect and equality for the next millennium, ruled by
fraternity and not by cruel conflicts.
An opinion is being formed everywhere about a phenomenon of today, that in spite
of being expressed between wars and violence, calls upon entire humanity to
protect its historical values: unity in the diversity. And this calls upon us to
reflect about the incorporation of important elements of change and
transformation in all aspects of life on earth, in the search for specific and
definite solutions to the deep ethical crisis that afflicts humanity. This will,
no doubt, have decisive influence on the structuring of the future.
There is a possibility that some centers of political and economic power, some
statesmen and intellectuals, have not yet managed to see the advantages of the
active participation of the Indian people in all the fields of human activity.
However, the movement initiated by different political and intellectual
'Amerindians' will finally convince them that, from an objective point of view,
we are a constituent part of the historical alternatives that are being
discussed at international levels.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to say some candid words about my country. The
attention that this Nobel Peace Prize has focused on Guatemala should imply that
the violation of human rights is no longer ignored internationally. It will also
honor all those who have died struggling for social equality and justice in my
It is known throughout the world that the Guatemalan people, as a result of
their struggle, succeeded in achieving, in October of 1944, a period of
democracy where institutionality and human rights represented the main
philosophies. At that time, Guatemala was an exception in the American continent
because of its struggle for complete national sovereignty. However, in 1954, a
conspiracy that joined the traditional national power centers, inheritors of
colonialism, with powerful foreign interests, overthrew the democratic regime as
a result of armed innovations, thereby reimposing the old system of oppression
which has characterized the history of my country.
The economic, social and political subjection that derived from that part of the
Cold War, was what initiated the internal armed conflict. The repression against
the organizations of the people, the democratic parties and the intellectuals,
started in Guatemala long before the war started. Let us not forget that.
In the attempt to crush rebellion, dictatorships have committed the greatest
atrocities. They have leveled villages, and murdered thousands of farmers,
particularly Indians, hundreds of trade union workers and students, outstanding
intellectuals and politicians, priests and nuns. Throughout this systematic
persecution in the name of the safety of the nation, 1 million farmers were
removed by force from their lands; 100,000 had to seek refuges in neighboring
countries. In Guatemala there are today almost 100,000 orphans and more than
40,000 widows. The practice of 'mission' politicians was invented in Guatemala,
as a government policy. As you know, I am myself a survivor of a massacred
The country collapsed into a crisis never seen before and the changes in the
world forced and encouraged the military forces to permit a political opening
that consisted in the preparation of a new constitution, in an expansion of the
political field and in the transfer of the government to civil sectors. We have
had this new regime for eight years and in certain fields there have been some
openings of importance.
However, in spite of these openings, repression
and violation of human rights persist in the middle of an economic crisis, that
is becoming more and more acute, to the extent that 84% of the population is
today considered as poor, and some 60% are considered as very poor. Impunity and
terror continue to prevent people from freely expressing their needs and vital
demands. The internal armed conflict still exists.
The political life in my country has lately circled around the search for a
political solution to the global crisis and the armed conflict that has existed
in Guatemala since 1962. This process was initiated by the Agreement signed in
this City of Oslo, between the Commission Nacional de Reconciliación (National
Commission for Reconciliation) with government mandate, and the Unidad
Revolucionaira Nacional Guatemalteca-URNG (The Guatemalan National Revolutionary
Unity), as a necessary step to introduce to Guatemala the spirit of the
Agreement of Esquipulas.
As a result of this Agreement and conversations between the URNG and different
sectors of the Guatemalan society, direct negotiations were initiated under the
government of President Serrano, between the government and the guerrilla, as a
result of which three agreements have already been signed. However, the subject
of human rights has taken a long time, because this subject constitutes the core
in Guatemalan problems, and around this core important differences have arisen.
Nevertheless, there has been considerable progress.
The process of negotiation aims at reaching agreements in order to establish the
basis for a real democracy in Guatemala and for the end of the war. As far as I
understand, with the goodwill of the parties concerned and the active
participation of the civil sectors, adapting to a great national unity, the
phase of purposes and intentions could be left behind so that Guatemala could be
pulled out of the crossroads that seems to become eternal.
Dialogues and the political negotiations are, no doubt, adequate means to solve
these problems, in order to respond in a specific way to the vital and urgent
needs for life and for the implementation of democracy for our Guatemalan
It is necessary to point out, here in Oslo, that the issue of the human rights
in Guatemala constitutes just now the most urgent problem that has to be solved.
My statement is neither incidental nor unjustified.
As has been ascertained by international institutions, such as the United
National Commission of Human Rights, the Interamerican Commission of Human
Rights and many other humanitarian organizations, Guatemala is one of the
countries in America with the largest number of violations of these rights, the
largest number of cases of impunity where security forces are generally involved.
It is imperative that the repression and persecution of the people and the
Indians be stopped. The compulsory mobilization and integration of young people
into the Patrols of Civil Self-Defense, which to a great extent affects the
Indian people, must also be stopped.
Democracy in Guatemala must be built up as soon
as possible. It is necessary that human rights be fully complied with. We must
put an end to racism, guarantee freedom to organize and to move within all
sectors of the country. In short, it is imperative to open the fields to the
multi-ethnic civil society with all its rights, to demilitarize the country and
establish the basis for its development, so that it can be pulled out of today's
underdevelopment and poverty.
Among the most bitter dramas that a great percentage of the population has to
endure is the forced exodus, which means to be forced by military units and
persecution to abandon their villages, their mother earth, where their ancestors
rest, their environment, the nature that gave them life and the growth of their
communities, all of which constitute a coherent system of social organization
and functional democracy.
The case of the displaced and refugees in Guatemala is heartbreaking; some of
them are condemned to live in exile in other countries, but the great majority
live in exile in their own country. They are forced to wander from place to
place, to live in ravines and inhospitable places, some not recognized as
Guatemalan citizens, but all of them are condemned to poverty and hunger. There
cannot be a real democracy as long as this problem is not satisfactorily solved
and these people are reintegrated into their lands and villages.
In the new Guatemalan society there must be a fundamental reorganization in the
matter of land possession, to allow for the development of the agricultural
potential, as well as the return to the legitimate owners of the land that was
taken away from them. And not to forget that this process of reorganization must
be carried out with the greatest respect towards nature, in order to protect her
and return to her, her strength and capability to generate life.
No less characteristic in a democracy is social justice. This demands a solution
to the frightening indexes of infantile mortality, of malnutrition, lack of
education, wages not sufficient to sustain life. These problems have a growing
and painful impact on the Guatemalan population and there are no prospects and
Among the features that characterize society today, is the role of the woman,
although woman emancipation has not been fully achieved so far by any country in
The historical development in Guatemala reflects now the need and the
irreversibility of the active contribution of the woman in the configuration of
the new Guatemalan social order, of which, I humbly believe, the Indian women
already are a clear testimony. This Nobel Prize is a recognition to those who
have been, and still are in most parts of the world, the most exploited of the
exploited ones; the most discriminated of the discriminated ones, the most
marginalized of the marginalized ones, but still they are the ones that produce
life and riches.
Democracy, development and modernization of a country are impossible and
incongruous without the solution of these problems.
In Guatemala it is just as important to recognize the identity and the rights of
the Indigenous people, that have been ignored and despised not only during the
colonial period, but also in the republican one. It is not possible to conceive
a democratic Guatemala, free and independent, without the Indigenous identity
shaping its character in all aspects of national existence.
It will undoubtedly be something new, a
completely new experience, with features that, at the moment, we cannot describe.
But it will authentically respond to history and the characteristics of the real
Guatemalan nationality, the real profile that has been distorted for such a long
This urgency and this vital need, are the issues that urge me, at this moment,
from this rostrum, to ask the national opinion and the international community
to show a more active interest in Guatemala.
Taking into consideration that in connection with my role as a Nobel Prize
winner, in the process of negotiations for peace in Guatemala many possibilities
have been handled, but now I think that this role is more likely to be the role
of a promoter of peace, of national unity, for protection of the rights of the
Indigenous people. In such a way that I may take initiatives in accordance with
those arising, and thereby prevent the Peace Prize from becoming a piece of
paper that has been filed.
I call upon all the social and ethnic sectors that constitute the people of
Guatemala to participate actively in the efforts to find a peaceful solution to
the armed conflict, to build-up a sound unity between the 'ladinos' (of Indian
and Spanish descent), the blacks and the Indians, all of whom must create within
their diversity, their Guatemality.
Along these same lines, I invite the international community to contribute with
specific actions so that the parties involved may overcome the differences that
at this stage keep negotiations in a wait-and-see state, and thereby succeed,
first of all, in signing an agreement on human rights. And then, re-initiate the
rounds of negotiation and find those issues on which to comprise, allowing for
the Peace Agreement to be signed and immediately verified, because I have no
doubt that this will bring about a great relief to the prevailing situation in
Ladies and gentlemen, the fact that I have given preference to the American
continent, and in particular to my country, does not mean that I do not have an
important place in my mind and in my heart for the concern of other people of
the world and their constant struggle for the defense of peace, of the rights to
a life and all its inalienable rights. The majority of us, who are gathered here
today, constitute an example of the above, and along these lines I would humbly
extend to you my gratitude.
Many things have changed in these last years. There have been great changes of
worldwide character. The East-West confrontation has ceased to exist and the
Cold War has come to an end. These changes, which exact forms cannot yet be
predicted, have left gaps that the people of the world have known how to make
use of in order to come forward, struggle and win national terrain and
Today we must fight for a better world, without
poverty, without racism, with peace in the Middle East and in South East Asia,
to where I address a plea for the liberation of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a winner
of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1991; for a just and peaceful solution of the Balkans;
for the end of the apartheid in the South Africa; for stability in Nicaragua;
that the Peace Agreement in El Salvador be observed; for the re-establishment of
democracy in Haiti; for the complete sovereignty of Panama; because all of that
constitutes the highest aims as to justice, in the international situation.
A world at peace that could provide consistency, interrelation and concordance
in respect of the economic, social and cultural structures of the societies.
That could have deep roots and sound influence.
We have in our mind the deepest felt demands of entire humanity, when we strive
for a peaceful coexistence and the preservation of the environment. The struggle
we fight purifies and shapes the future.
Our history is a live history that has throbbed, withstood and survived many
centuries of sacrifice, now it comes forward again with strength. The seeds,
dormant for such a long time, break out today with some uncertainty, although
they germinate in a world that is at present characterized by confusion and
There is no doubt that this process will be long and complex, but it is no
Utopia and we, the Indians, we have no confidence in its implementation.
The people of Guatemala will mobilize and will be aware of their strength to
build up a worthy future. It is preparing itself to sow the future, to free
itself from atavisms, to rediscover itself. To build up a country with a genuine
national identity. To start a new life.
By combining all the shades and nuances of the 'ladinos,' the 'garífunas' and
Indians in the Guatemalan ethnic mosaic, we must interlace a number of colors
without arising contradictions, without them becoming grotesque or antagonistic,
but we must give them brightness and a superior quality, just the way our
weavers weave. A typical 'guipil' shirt brilliantly composed, a gift to humanity.
Thank you very much.