Harvard's Nieman Foundation this month presented its highest honor to Monica Gonzalez, a noted journalist and critic of the Chilean government who was almost prevented from leaving her country to receive the award.
The foundation announced earlier this summer that Gonzalez had won the $1000 Louis M. Lyons Award for conscience and integrity in journalism. A four-member selection panel honored her for unbiased reporting under the repressive Chilean regime.
In addition to granting the Lyons Award, the Nieman Foundation brings 20 reporters and editors to Harvard each year. Each class of fellows elects a committee to pick the Lyons winner.
Gonzalez, a writer for the magazine "Analisis," was imprisoned after interviewing opposition leader Andres Zaldivar. Charged with defaming the state, she served about half of a 60-day jail sentence. She interviewed her fellow inmates and later published their stories. Afterwards, General Augusto Pinochet himself condemned her again.
Gonzalez did arrive at Harvard to accept the award, but only after several Nieman Fellows spent a day on the telephone with diplomats and Chilean judges.
Howard Simons, curator of the Nieman Foundation, asked Alvear as well as a 1987-88 Nieman Fellow, Rosental Alvis, to help get Gonzalez out of Chile. The three placed calls to the American ambassador to Santiago and the Chilean ambassador to the United States. "The constant calling eventually resulted in the Chilean government letting her go," said Alvear.
Gonzalez arrived only one day late. Said Alvear, who translated Gonzalez's speech from Spanish at the 1988-89 Nieman class' introductory party, "If she had had time to come in the day before, we would have had some time to go over the speech. When she was in the tub at the hotel, she read the speech to me and I took notes."
Approximately 150 people attended the award ceremony where Gonzalez spoke of her life and career. "Yes, I dug up my typewriter and I filled myself with tears and pain but I also found new strength and bit by bit I recovered hope," said Gonzalez, according to a translation of the speech.
The Lyons Award was first given in 1964 in honor of Louis M. Lyons, who served as Nieman Foundation curator for 25 years. Past recipients of the award include Zwelakhe Sisulu, a South African editor, Tom Renner, a reporter for Newsday who uncovered stories on organized crime, and Violeta Chamorro, publisher of the Nicaraguan opposition paper La Prensa.