Guatemalan Highlands, 1979: Torture


Rigoberta Menchu, one of the leaders of the Guatemalan resistance, tells of the most painful experience of her life.

One of my brothers was a catechist. The other was secretary for a cooperative in the village; that was his only crime. They kidnapped him, and he spent days in the hands of the army, who tortured him. He was only 14 years old. They ripped off his fingernails, cut out his tongue, they destroyed the soles of his feet and burned his skin. I saw him with my own eyes and will never forget it!

…At 8:00 a.m. a military truck arrived. They made about 20 men get off the truck; men who no longer looked human, and among them was my little brother. It was hard to identify him…. He was so disfigured…

They lined up the prisoners, dressed up like soldiers… They hit them with their rifle butts to make them stand, but they would just fall down again. When [the captain] gave the order to undress them, they had to cut the uniforms because the blood from the wounds bade the uniforms stick to their bodies… They tied them and piled them up together, then the captain ordered his soldiers to pour gasoline over them and set them on fire. I was looking at my brother. He didn’t die right away, nor did the others. Some screamed; others could no longer breathe so they didn’t scream, but their bodies were writhing. Unfortunately, there is no water in our villages, so we couldn’t put out the fire that was burning them. When water arrived it, was too late.

I am no longer the owner of my small existence; the world I live in is so cruel, so blood-thirsty, that it is going to annihilate me at any moment. Therefore, the only thing I can do is struggle… if I fight, it is to be treated like a human being…

This is what I can give as testimony… If I have narrated my life, if I have taken this opportunity, it’s because I know that my people cannot tell their story; but it’s no different than mine. I am not the only orphan…


-Rigoberta Menchu, I…. Rigoberta Menchu, 198-201

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