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Columbian president given ND award

Joseph McMahon | Monday, September 22, 2008

The Kellogg Institute for International Studies awarded its prestigious Notre Dame Prize for Distinguished Public Service in Latin America to César Gaviria Trajillo, the former president of Colombia, during a ceremony celebrating Kellogg’s 25th anniversary Friday.

“The Kellogg Institute has spent 25 years developing a reputation for the study of democracy in Latin America, and here’s somebody who spent 40 years of his career, not studying it, but living it,” the Institute’s interim director Ted Beatty said.

The award carries a $15,000 prize as well as a $15,000 matching grant for a charity of the recipient’s choice, which was presented to Fundación Colombia Presente. Both awards are funded by the Coca-Cola Foundation.

Gaviria said he was honored to receive the award and pleased with the work of the Institute in Latin America.

“Well I’m very proud to be honored and to receive this award from the Kellogg Institute. This is a very prestigious university, and the Kellogg Institute is very well known in the academic world for all the work it has done in Latin America,” he said. “Democratic issues are very, very important, and I am happy that this university is interested in democratic issues in Latin America.”

In his acceptance speech, Gaviria said Latin American countries would continue to need help in developing democratic governments through “political globalization.”

“Latin America needs solidarity. The political systems of many countries need help,” he said.

Gaviria served as president of Colombia from 1990 to 1994 and as head of the Organization of American States (OAS) from 1994 until 2004, where he developed a reputation as one of Latin America’s great advocates for Democracy.

“It was really under his leadership that the OAS became a very important actor for democracy in our hemisphere,” Beatty said.

University President Emeritus Ted Hesburgh, who along with Edmund Joyce helped found the Kellogg Institute, said Gaviria was well deserving of the award because of his work with OAS.

“I think OAS is a very, very important part of the whole hemisphere,” he said. “The OAS isn’t a perfect group, and like all such things it has had a lot of problems, but I think it’s absolutely important that we have the OAS in Washington, D.C., right next to the White House.”

Gaviria’s task has often been difficult, having been faced with and overcoming violent threats and intimidation by drug cartels.

“This someone who started his political career very early and has devoted his entire career to working for democratic politics, often in Columbia in very difficult circumstances where political violence and conflict were very prevalent,” Beatty said.

James McDonald, counselor to the University president agreed, calling Gaviria “one of the most courageous advocates for democracy in America.”

Although Gaviria retired from the OAS four years ago, he still holds a great deal of influence in Colombia and has continued to work for democracy in the region.

For Hesburgh, the night also marked the incredible growth of the Kellogg Institute.

“[The Kellogg Institute] was a dream, of course. But when we started it, we didn’t have any money,” he said.

After securing $10 million from the estate of Helen Kellogg, Hesburgh and Joyce founded the institute that would eventually develop into one of the leaders in researching world peace.

“They now have over a $100 million endowment. I think it’s the best institute of its kind in the world,” Hesburgh said. “That’s the kind of thing a Catholic university ought to do. And we have wonderful people running these institutes and participating in the research, so I can’t think of anything more fitting for a Catholic university to do than to work for world peace.”

The matching prize to Fundación Colombia Presente was presented by Rodrigo Calderón, vice president of public affairs and communications for Coca-Cola Latin America.

Calderón said the organization played in major role in helping Colombia establish a more democratic society.

“It is in this context that Fundación Colombia Presente was created in 1993, and it has reformed Colombian society by raising the awareness of social needs,” he said. “It is my great pleasure to hand this year’s grant to Fundación Colombia Presente.”