Francisco Laurenzo Pons, an imprisoned Uruguayan journalist, has been named one of two winners of the Distinguished Foreign Cartoonists Award, but there is doubt that he will be on hand to receive it June 20 in Nashville.
The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, a 250-member group of professionals whose work appears in nearly all of North America's major newspapers, named Laurenzo, of Montevideo, and Eryk Lipinski of Warsaw, Poland, to share the award at the association's 25th convention.
Laurenzo, 36, waa arrested in July, 1978, on what the association called "unspecified charges," and a military court sentenced him to 6 1/2 years in prison. He is reported in ill health there.
According to Amnesty International, a human rights group, "the number of peaceful dissidents is inevitably high in Uruguay, where all political activity is prohibited, where political parties left of center and the nation's trade union movement are banned, and the news media are either closed down or strictly censored."
Jerry Robinson, chairman of the association's political affairs committee, said Laurenzo's cartoons "are very powerful. They tend to be symbolic rather than literal in character. He shows a strong sense of design. Most of all, he has a fine art quality. His messages, obviously, are very forceful, and I imagine that's what landed him in his current predicament."
Robinson, who said the award is not political and that a winner's work could represent any point of view, visited the Uruguayan Embassy here six weeks ago to ask if Laurenzo could be released from prison to travel with his wife and child to Nashville. "They said they would look into his case," Robinson said, "and we would receive details of the charges [against Laurenzo]. But we have not heard back."
Santiago Testa, an assistant to embassy press official Miguel Sofia, with whom Robinson spoke, said yesterday, "There has been no official response from our government in Montevideo. All the information [about the award] went to them. This is a delicate issue."
Two days ago, association president Sandy Campbell of The Nashville Tennessean, phoned Laurenzo's wife in Montevideo. "She told me her husband had not been informed of the award when she saw him last Saturday in prison," Campbell said.
Freeing prisoners from Uruguyan jails is not a simple issue because the government, in what appears to be a rare procedure, imposes what is akin to a "freedom tax."
Amnesty International reports that when a prisoner is released and wants to leave the country, he is required by Uruguayan law to pay retroactively what is cost the government to keep him jailed.
For 1978, when Laurenzo was imprisoned, Amnesty said it "has received numerous reports of prisoners having to pay up to three U.S. dollars to cover the cost of each day spent in prison." Laurenzo began architectural studies at Uruguay's national university at age 19. In 1970, he became an editorial cartoonist and chief illustrator for Marcha, a prominent weekly journal since closed by the government.