MEXICO CITY – Mexican writer and translator Sergio Pitol, winner of the Cervantes Prize in 2005, received the Spanish government's Order of Isabella the Catholic in a ceremony in this capital.

In addition to Pitol, who was granted the order in the grade of commander, the honor was also bestowed on the secretary of culture of Jalisco state, Jesús Alejandro Cravioto Lebrija; diplomat José Ignacio Madrazo; and historians José María Muria Rouret and Elisa García Barragan.

They received the distinction from Spain's ambassador to Mexico, Manuel Alabart, who hailed the role those five individuals have played in promoting Hispanic culture and strengthening Spanish-Mexican relations.

The most notable recipient was Pitol – a 78-year-old writer whose grandmother raised him in El Potrero, a town of Italian immigrants located in the Mexican Gulf coast state of Veracruz – and instilled in him a passion for reading.

Upon receiving the honor at the Spanish ambassador's official residence in Mexico City, Pitol said in a text read by Mexican writer and journalist Juan Villoro that Queen Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504) "never imagined what Columbus' discovery would bring. In this ceremony, we celebrate her and celebrate our having received the order that bears her name."

He also mentioned several Spanish authors and gave a special place to Miguel de Cervantes, who was "ahead of his time. There's no important subsequent literary trend that doesn't owe something to 'Don Quixote.'"

Pitol also touted the important contribution to Mexican culture made by Spaniards who came here after their country's 1936-1939 civil war.

"Those pilgrims who were scarred by a brutal war and defeated created an enhanced intellectual atmosphere. They taught us to understand and love Spain ... and expand our horizons," Pitol said.

The writer said in December 2005 after being awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's equivalent of the Nobel Prize in literature, that it was the greatest honor of his literary career.

The Order of Isabella the Catholic is granted in recognition of civil services that benefit Spain.

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