The task of selecting the best Latin American journalism is becoming more difficult every year for the Iberoamerican Foundation for New Journalism (FNPI), founded by writer and Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez. This year nearly a thousand pieces are competing for its print award, more than double the number that competed for the first award in 2001.
Print stories from Latin America, Spain and Portugal are chosen — along with the best photographs — every two years. Each intervening year, the prizes go to the best works for broadcast, radio and the Internet.
So anxiety is rife among Latin American print journalists as June approaches every other year, when FNPI-CEMEX announces the names of the first-round selections. As the date gets closer, journalists, editors, friends and relatives of the applicants make subtle inquiries on the Internet, looking for the official notification.
Their anxiety could also be explained by the fact that, compared to the United States, Latin American journalism awards are scarce. The FNPI-CEMEX is unique in distinguishing the stories that combine precision, narrative quality, ethical values and public service.
“The mere existence of many of the contestants’ work itself represents a triumph over the lack of resources, time, and even personal safety that so many reporters face, not to mention the countless subtle or brutal political pressures that to this date seek to prevent the free expression of the press,” stated the jury in the final statement of the first version of the award.
The third reason for collective anxiety is the prestige that the FNPI-CEMEX award has achieved — and not only because of the presence of García Márquez. The group of journalists and writers who have participated in the governing council since the award’s inception includes Tomás Eloy Martínez and Carlos Monsiváis, both of whom died this year. Among the first awardees were journalists who have become legends on the continent, like Daniel Santoro and Gustavo Gorriti.
This year, 28 pieces made it through the pre-selection barrier. In a couple of months, the foundation will announce the five finalists chosen among them — and the winner.
To read the 28 selected stories is to take a shocking trip into Latin American reality. From the pages of each story, in varying degrees, a combination of extreme violence, abuse of power, corruption, neglect and discrimination emerges, along with humor, hope and dreams that keep the region’s inhabitants alive and vital. It is a hard ride, but recommended for those who have forgotten the continent, lulled by advertising visions that show only the touristy, cheerful and kind face of the continent.
Among those selected, for example, there are reports on the life in the favelas of Rio (“A City of God and Devil”), on gang members in Mexico, and on the lives of young anthropologists dedicated to identifying bodies of the disappeared in Argentina.
If you feel that none of this matters to you because the events don’t take place in the United States, you could read: “The Obama Cuauhtémoc”, which describes how the Hispanic vote was captured during the last presidential campaign; an article on the decline on Wall Street as seen through the eyes of Argentine brokers; and “Acapulco Kids,” on the way that certain American and Canadian tourists have transformed that city into the newest heaven for pederasts. All 28 selected articles are available online (though only in the original Spanish or Portuguese).
In the 2001 statement, the Governing Council of the FNPI-CEMEX award, lead by García Márquez, said: “We hope that this Award will be both an incentive and a tool of transformation.” The increase in submissions shows that a growing number of Latin American reporters agree with that idea.
Alejandra Matus is a Chilean journalist and a 2009-10 Nieman Fellow.