Pulitzer Center Update

Rainforest Defenders Project Wins Top Latin American Journalism Prize

José, one of the leaders of the Achuar Indigenous people, juxtaposed with the Achuar rainforest in Ecuador. Image by Pablo Albarenga. Ecuador, 2019.

Supported by the Rainforest Journalism Fund, Francesc Badia i Dalmases and Pablo Albarenga’s Rainforest Defenders (Defensores de la selva) project was awarded a 2020 Gabo Prize, the preeminent journalism award in Latin America. The two Pulitzer Center grantees spoke about the genesis of the project in a livestreamed ceremony on Jan. 21.

Rainforest Defenders captures the emotional impacts of environmental degradation in the Amazon, spotlighting the personal struggles and fears of Indigenous people defending their land from illegal logging. The project encompassed a large geographical range, covering stories in Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil. Mixing video and drone photography with text narration, Dalmases and Albarenga provide compelling narratives of Indigenous activists who resist the destruction of their home with courageous commitment.

Dalmases finds the reporting project to be innovative in its approach to cover the Amazon’s environmental crisis through a more personal, human lens.

“As the Amazon rainforest has become one of the global hot spots of the current climate crisis, we wanted to report about it in an innovative, more meaningful manner,” Dalmases told the Pulitzer Center. “The Amazon is inhabited by more than 30 million people and yet is mostly reported as an immense green mass of woods, water, oxygen, where deforestation and devastation may occur statistically, but hardly focusing on the daily impact on the lives of the ones that fight so much for its conservation.”

The Gabo Foundation, created in 1995 by journalist and Nobel Prize winner for Literature Gabriel García Márquez, seeks to promote ethical, rigorous, and innovative public service journalism. The Rainforest Defenders project was the winner from 282 entries submitted in the Image category.

The committee highlighted the project “for being an exceptional journalistic product that seeks to bring the climate crisis down to earth in the daily lives of young people who play a role, so far scarcely documented and recognized, in the defense and conservation of the Amazon in Brazil and Ecuador.”

Albarenga hopes this reporting can help shift the conversation from the Amazon’s role as the lungs of the Earth to the struggle of the communities living in the heart of the Amazon, who fight every day for their territory and livelihood.

“I hope readers get as close as possible to all these stories hand in hand with empathy and I hope they understand that what happens in the Amazon is not separate from what they do every day,” Albarenga told the Pulitzer Center. “Our life in the cities is especially related to the land conflicts on the other side of the supply chain.”

In addition to the recognition, Dalmases and Albarenga will also receive 33 million Colombian pesos (approximately $9,200), a diploma certifying them as the winner, and a copy of the work Gabriel, by Colombian artist Antonio Caro.

“The support from the Pulitzer Center was a catalyst for the project,” Dalmases said. “The global prestige of the foundation on cutting-edge journalism became crucial to the success of our story among international publishers (El País, The Washington Post, The Guardian) that broadened significantly the initial impact of our series.”

Another Pulitzer Center-supported story, “In El Salvador, Violence is Driving Girls to Kill Themselves,” was also a finalist in the Image category. Gustavo Faleiros, who recently joined the Pulitzer Center staff as the Rainforest Investigations Network coordinator, was also part of the team for “Venezuela, the Smugglers’ Paradise,” the winner of the 2020 Gabo Prize in the Story category.

For a full list of 2020 Gabo Prize winners, please click here.