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Nobel Prize Winner Campaigning to Boost Indian Turnout

September 21, 1995

SANTA MARIA CAUQUE, Guatemala (AP) _ Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu has launched a campaign to boost voter turnout by Guatemala’s Indians when the country chooses its next president Nov. 12.

``We must participate and unite before the candidates are elected,″ she told some 300 cheering Caqchikel Indians at a rally Wednesday. ``We must force them to listen to our problems _ voting is the only way.″

Although more than 60 percent of Guatemala’s 10 million people Mayan Indians, most are poor and uneducated. Language barriers, isolation and difficult registration procedures keep many of them from voting.

``The campaign is aimed at women, the young and indigenous people,″ she said. ``We are letting them know about their political rights.″

In the last elections, fewer than 15 percent of registered voters cast ballots. This year is the third general election since the military gave up power in 1985.

``My boss would not give me time off to register to vote,″ said a 24- year-old Caqchikel Indian, who asked not to be named. ``Anyway, the politicians always fool us with false promises.″

This year, a record 19 candidates are running for president.

Leading in the polls is Alvaro Arzu, a businessman who is the leader of the center-right Party for National Advancement.

The previous favorite, Efrain Rios Montt, was disqualified for having taken power in a military coup in 1982.

More than 3.6 million people have registered to vote _ a significant increase over previous elections, according to electoral authorities.

``Interest in the elections among the public is slowly awakening. They want to go and vote this year,″ said Felix Milla of the Public Registration Office, which issues voting cards.