As co-founder, publisher and editor of Panama’s independent newspaper La Prensa, I. Roberto Eisenmann Jr. faced physical and economic danger under the regimes of Omar Torrijos and Manuel Antonio Noriega. After his Nieman year, he had to remain in the States until the U.S. military captured Noriega in 1990
Being the editor and publisher of La Prensa during those years was a really horrible situation. There were daily threats on my life. The newspaper was attacked several times. But the Nieman Fellowship was like an intellectual Disney World. I took political science classes, poetry classes, the whole gamut. I might have even overworked myself; I was just so excited with everyone I was listening to.
Howard Simons introduced me to the people at PBS, and the first major television program in which I was a voice for the opposition was PBS’s “NewsHour.” In 1986 Seymour Hersh, whom I met during my Nieman year, did the first major story for The New York Times on Noriega’s drug running. That was the beginning of the end, though it took about another year to get the State Department and the U.S. government detached from Noriega.
Through all of this, besides being our curator, Howard was a great friend, helping me all the way. We were battling a cruel dictatorship, which was supported by the U.S. at the time. Having a voice in the U.S. helped the opposition, and I had acquired that voice only because I was a Nieman. When I returned to Panama, my work was to rebuild a destroyed newspaper.