Journalists who defy dictatorial regimes and risk their lives covering Central and South America were among the winners of Columbia's 1995 Maria Moors Cabot Prizes.
Receiving awards for the advancement of press freedom and inter-American understanding in ceremonies at Columbia Oct. 26 were: Douglas C. Farah, Central America and Caribbean correspondent for The Washington Post; Canute W. James, Caribbean correspondent for the Financial Times of London; Geri L. Smith, Mexico City bureau chief for Business Week magazine, and José Rubén Zamora Marroquín, president, general manager and general editor of the daily newspaper Siglo Veintiuno of Guatemala.
A Cabot special citation was presented to I. Roberto Eisenmann Jr., founding editor and publisher of La Prensa in Panama.
The awards, now in their 57th year, are the oldest in international journalism and are administered by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. They were presented in formal ceremonies in Low Rotunda. Journalism Dean Joan Konner presented the winners to Vice Provost Michael Crow, who conferred the prizes. Winners received Gold Medals and a $l,000 honorarium each.
The Cabot Prizes have been awarded annually by Columbia since 1939 to journalists of the Western hemisphere for distinguished contributions to inter-American understanding and freedom of information. They were established by the late Godfrey Lowell Cabot of Boston as a memorial to his wife.
Information on the 1995 prizewinners:
Douglas C. Farah. The son of American missionaries in Bolivia, he brings the experience of a lifetime in Latin America to his reporting. After a childhood in the Bolivian Amazon and teen years in La Paz, he graduated with honors in both journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Kansas in 1985. He was immediately hired by UPI as bureau chief in El Salvador. As a wire service reporter and later as a free-lancer for The Washington Post, Newsweek, The Boston Globe and others, he covered the civil war in El Salvador and the Contras in Honduras. He courageously broke new journalistic ground with an investigative series on right-wing death squads, which won him the Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award for Foreign Correspondence in 1988. Moving on to Bogota at the height of the cocaine trade, he established himself as a leading authority on drug-trafficking and money-laundering in the region. As a reporter for The Post since 1992, he has distinguished himself with dramatic stories from Haiti, producing some of the most insightful and significant reporting on the U.S. invasion and the restoration of President Aristide.
Canute W. James: One of the Caribbean's best-known contemporary journalists, James has helped a worldwide audience to understand an undercovered part of the hemisphere, the Caribbean. A colleague has called him a "transnational" for his depth of understanding of the individual nations within the region he covers. Born in St. Ann, Jamaica, James was educated at Manchester School in Mandeville, Jamaica, and at the University of the West Indies (Mona campus), where he earned the B.A. degree. He began his journalism career as a sub-editor with The Gleaner in Jamaica. He went on to become a radio reporter, producer and news reader in London with the BBC from 1971 to 1973, when he returned to Jamaica to head current affairs programming for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corp.. Later that year he became a senior reporter for the Jamaica Daily News. He was named editor in 1976, a position he held until he joined the Financial Times in 1980. He has been a contributor to The Journal of Commerce, Time magazine, The Miami Herald and other U.S. publications.
Geri L. Smith: As Mexico City bureau chief for Business Week since 1992, Smith was well positioned to report on one of the most far-reaching financial stories of recent years--the Mexican peso crisis of 1994. Her reports on the impact of the crisis on Mexico's new government, the country's once rapidly growing economy and the working men and women in the nation of 90 million people kept Business Week readers fully informed. Her reporting, on that story and on the Indian rebellion in the Mexican south, benefited from her more than 15 years as a journalist covering the length and breadth of Latin America. Smith began planning her career as a journalist in junior high school in Central Florida, where she edited the school newspaper. A later experience as an exchange student in Chile during the last year of the Allende government increased her determination to become a foreign correspondent. She learned what it was like to stand in line to buy bread, witness street demonstrations and live in a polarized society. After graduating from Northwestern with a B.S. in journalism in 1978, she was an Inter-American Press Association fellow in Buenos Aires. She served as UPI's bureau chief in Chile and Argentina, reporting on other countries as well as the war over the Falkland Islands, Argentina's return to democracy, human rights trials and economic crises. In 1985 she moved to Brazil and began reporting for UPI from Rio de Janeiro, and three years later became a free lance journalist and stringer for four U.S. newspapers, The St. Petersburg Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun, as well as for U.S. News & World Report. She added Business Week to her credits in 1991, and the next year became a staff correspondent and chief of its Mexico City bureau, where she supervises the magazine's stringers throughout South America.
José Rubén Zamora Marroquín: He has courageously led in establishing a new standard of independent journalism in a country where the top editor of a competing daily was murdered two years ago and ten journalists killed in the last six years. Scores of other professionals have met with violent deaths in three decades of civil war. His newspaper, Siglo Veintiuno, Spanish for 21st Century, now five years old, is unique among Guatemala's long-terrorized daily newspapers in testing the limits of a free press-with objective reporting of government, well-reasoned editorials and a full spectrum of views on its opinion pages. Zamora has tackled previously taboo subjects such as government corruption and official complicity in drug-trafficking. His calls for more equitable taxation have angered business leaders. His support of judicial reform has challenged entrenched lawyers and judges. His decision to run articles about corruption in high military circles resulted in threats against his life. Siglo Veintiuno's reporters have endured physical assault. Its distribution centers have been attacked during the night and the publication has been repeatedly burned. Zamora refused to publish under censorship in 1993, doing so only under a new name for the paper: Siglo Catorce-Era de Oscurantismo, meaning 14th Century-The Dark Ages.
I. Roberto Eisenmann Jr.: La Prensa has led with investigative stories about Panamanian drug and corruption scandals, a diversity of views and biting editorial cartoons. Eisenmann has lived under constant threat and harassment. Considered a public enemy and condemned as a traitor, he was forced into exile once more by death threats, but continued to manage the newspaper and write his column. La Prensa's reporters were shot at, jailed and sued, and the newspaper itself was repeatedly vandalized by government forces, censored, and closed down in 1988. Democracy returned to Panama in 1990, and since then La Prensa has continued to be the nation's conscience of reform. Although he is leaving the newspaper as editor and publisher, he will continue to write a syndicated column that appears in more than 50 Spanish language newspapers in Europe, Latin America and the United States as well as Op-Ed pieces for such dailies as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times.
Eisenmann is a fifth-generation Panamanian who was a successful businessman and banker before he became a journalist. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and was a Neiman Fellow at Harvard in 1986.
Columbia University Record -- November 3, 1995 -- Vol. 21, No. 9