by Charles Lemos, Sat Aug 07, 2010 at 01:56:48 AM EDT
I've been meaning to update the saga of Hollman Morris, the Colombian journalist whose visa was denied by the US embassy in Bogotá. In its original decision, US officials denied the student visa for Morris to come study as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard under the "terrorist activities" section of the USA Patriot Act.
I am happy to report that the US State Department has reversed its decision and has granted Mr. Morris the visa. It speaks well of the Obama Administration that it can admit mistakes quickly and forthrightly. The decision was reversed on July 27th. From the press release:
The U.S. State Department has reversed its decision to deny a visa to leading Colombian journalist Hollman Morris. He is now free to travel to the United States, where he will begin a yearlong fellowship at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.
Reacting to the news, Nieman Foundation Curator Bob Giles said “We’re very pleased that the situation has been resolved this way. Many concerned individuals worked together to support Hollman during the past month and we’re looking forward to having him join us at Harvard. His valuable expertise and insights will be a welcome addition to our new class of Nieman Fellows.”
Last month a U.S. consular official in Bogota told Morris that he was being denied a visa under the terrorist activities section of the Patriot Act. That decision was widely condemned by individuals and groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and others, many of whom lobbied on behalf of Morris.
An independent television journalist, Morris has reported extensively on his country’s civil war and resulting human rights abuses. His television show “Contravía” has been critical of alleged ties between the administration of outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary groups and the Colombian armed forces. Uribe once called Morris “an accomplice to terrorism” for building contacts with the country’s FARC rebels in the course of his reporting. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s largest rebel group, is on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Many journalists and human rights activists view efforts to link Morris with FARC as the Colombian government’s way to discredit his work. Last year, reports surfaced showing that Morris was one of many high profile critics of the government who were subjected to illegal wiretapping and surveillance by Colombia’s intelligence agency.
Morris has traveled to the United States a number of times in the past, has met with high-ranking U.S. officials to discuss Colombia’s human rights issues and in 2007 won the Human Rights Defender Award, presented annually by Human Rights Watch.
Here's a report that Hollman Morris filmed about an attack on the indigenous community of Toribío, Cauca back in 2005. There's been much progress in Colombia under Álvaro Uribe these past eight years but in much of rural Colombia the situation is much as it ever was. The last attack by the FARC on Toribío was this past March and just three days ago a Colombian soldier, Juan Diego López Bermúdez, age 25, died fighting the guerrillas just outside the town.
Toribío is a Nasa indigenous community caught between the FARC and the Colombian army. Hollman Morris with his weekly television programme on Colombia's public television channel has brought the war in rural Colombia into the homes of urban Colombia. In reporting on the sometimes indiscriminate response of the Colombian army to FARC attacks and by interviewing all actors involved in the conflict including guerrilla spokesmen, Hollman Morris earned the enmity of the Uribe Administration.
Although indigenous peoples make up just three percent of Colombia's population they account for eight percent of the 4.5 million Colombians who are internally displaced peoples. Virtually all indigenous groups in Colombia have been affected by forced displacement or are at serious risk of being displaced from their ancestral lands (UNHCR, 2005). Similarly, Afro-Colombians, who make up just over ten percent of the population, are also disproportionately affected by this phenomenon, representing 17 percent of all IDPs.
Colombia's 80 different indigenous peoples have long been in the front line of the 62-year conflict as illegal armies from across the political spectrum seek territorial control over their reservations, domination over drug crops or smuggling routes. An estimated 30,000 indigenous people have been killed during this period but 45 percent of these have been in the last eight years as the Uribe Administration took war to the guerrillas.
It is on behalf of Colombia's indigenous people that I urge you to oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement that the Obama Administration is now seeking to ratify. This agreement must be seen for what it is in Colombia - the last step in a vast redistribution of land pushing millions off the land so that wealthy agricultural interests can just take the land with impunity. The IDPs are not a by-product of the Colombian conflict. They are one of the goals.