Journalism School Announces 2012 Cabot Prize Winners for Latin America and Caribbean Reporting

Victoria Benítez
July 30, 2012

Columbia University today announced the 2012 winners of the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes for outstanding reporting on Latin America and the Caribbean.

Now in its 74th year, the Cabot Prize is the oldest international award in journalism, and honors journalists who have covered the Western Hemisphere and, through their reporting and editorial work, have furthered inter-American understanding. The prizes are administered by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

The 2012 gold medalists are: Teodoro Petkoff, editor, "Tal Cual," Caracas, Venezuela; David Luhnow, "The Wall Street Journal" Latin American Bureau Chief, United States; Juan Forero, South America correspondent, "Washington Post," "National Public Radio"/U.S.; and Miguel Angel Bastenier, columnist-editor, "El Pais," Madrid, Spain and professor, Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano, Cartagena, Colombia.

A 2012 Maria Moors Cabot citation is awarded to "El Universo," Guayaquil, Ecuador.

“With journalism under financial, governmental and even physical assault in significant parts of the Americas, the large number of prize nominees this year and the outstanding quality of our winners speaks to the courage and resiliency of the region’s press,” said Columbia Journalism School Dean Nicholas Lemann.

Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger will present Maria Moors Cabot gold medals and $5,000 honoraria to the prizewinners, and a certificate to the citation honoree, at a dinner and ceremony on Thursday, October 25, on the University’s Morningside Heights campus.

Excerpts from the 2012 award citations follow:

Teodoro Petkoff, "Tal Cual," Venezuela

Fourteen years ago, at the age of 66, Teodoro Petkoff, began his career as a journalist in Venezuela. Since then, he has devoted himself to defying Venezuela’s power-base and the government’s increasing aggressiveness towards the media—an increasingly rare act as strongman Hugo Chavez has clamped down aggressively on the press.

Petkoff’s hard-hitting editorials appear three times a week on the front page of the daily newspaper he created, Tal Cual, which translated into English means “That’s the way it is.”

Before becoming a journalist, Petkoff was a student activist who was arrested countless times; an armed Communist guerilla fighter, and finally a Congressional deputy and government minister who became disillusioned with the violence and political situation in his homeland.

Despite his late interest in journalism, Petkoff has done more in his relatively brief journalistic career than many accomplish in a lifetime.

David Luhnow, "Wall Street Journal," United States

For the past decade, David Luhnow has been The Wall Street Journal’s Bureau Chief in Latin American. Born and raised in Mexico by American parents, David Luhnow has skillfully reported news about Mexico, Central and South America to his newspaper’s international readership.

By all accounts an inspirational leader, Luhnow has used his outstanding reportorial skills and editorial flair to make the region come to life for readers in stories that are both thoroughly reported and thoughtfully engaging.

Luhnow has courageously and ingeniously tackled many of the region’s most important events and issues—including organized crime, fiscal crises, monopoly ownership, injustice and recent elections.

Juan Forero, "Washington Post" and "National Public Radio" (NPR), United States

While the number of United States reporters posted full-time in Latin America is plummeting, Juan Forero has remained a reliable constant for those seeking to keep up with news about this interesting and volatile part of the world.

Raised in the U.S. by immigrant parents from Colombia, Forero’s keen understanding of both cultures permeates his reporting for articles written for the Washington Post and his lively National Public Radio segments.

From his base in Bogota, Forero roams far and wide to find compelling print and radio stories that demand attention. He is an equal opportunity reporter, as Forero’s poetic human-interest stories capture the complexity of a dynamic and diverse continent are a unique contrast to his authoritative political stories uncovering corruption and abuses by the powerful across all ideological scales.

Miguel Ángel Bastenier, "El Pais," Spain and Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano, Colombia

Throughout his long professional career, Miguel Ángel Bastenier has been deeply committed to practicing quality journalism in the Americas and teaching others how to do it with the same independence and love of profession his own work displays.

Bastenier’s news reports and opinion columns are devoted to promoting an understanding of Latin America’s complexities including its intense political mosaic. His articles are widely read in Spain’s principal daily newspaper, El País, and syndicated in many other Latin American publications.

Bastenier, who has dual Colombian and Spanish citizenship, has written many books, including a guide for young journalists—a compilation of the workshops he has given around the Americas for over a decade to more than 1,200 reporters.

Citation, El Universo, Ecuador
Among the most sinister enemies of free press in Latin America are criminal libel laws, which allow judges to send journalists to jail for defaming a person or corporation. Several countries no longer allow this law to exist; however, one of the countries that use this law most often is Ecuador, where recent leadership seems enamored with the power to send journalists who disagree with the ruling party to prison.

The current president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, recently sued Ecuador’s leading newspaper, "El Universo," for criminal libel because, among other alleged anti-government statements, it described President Correa as “the dictator.” The Ecuadorian court ruled in favor of the president last year, ordering the newspaper to pay $40 million in fines and sentencing its three top executives and an opinion editor to three years in prison.

Correa ultimately pardoned "El Universo" but continues his battle to control the media with televised anti-media rants, personal smears, economic sanctions and pressure on the National Assembly to introduce press regulations and restrictions.

Even in the face of Correa’s bullying and the threat of incarceration, "El Universo" and many other Ecuadoran journalists have courageously defended their right and obligation to speak out for a democratic society.