Hollman Morris Visa Denied

In a speech to the AFL-CI0 in Philadelphia back in April 2008 just 18 days before the critical Democratic primary in heavily unionized Pennsylvania, candidate Barack Obama then the junior Senator from Illinois and locked in a fierce battle for the Democratic nomination said he as president would oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) “because the violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements.”

That was then, this is now. In a speech last week to the President's Export Council, President Obama urged Congress to ratify the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement "as soon as possible." Though the President noted that the Administration was "working to resolve outstanding issues" and that any agreement with Colombia would uphold "our most cherished values," the President chose not to directly address the continuing violence against trade unionists in Colombia perhaps because it is an inconvenient fact. Since Senator Obama made his adamant opposition to a Colombia FTA clear as he searched for votes in the Keystone state, over a hundred trade unionists have been killed in Colombia including 49 in 2009 and 25 so far in 2010. Talk about making a mockery of oneself. 

While Colombia remains the world's most dangerous place to be a trade unionist, Colombia is also not a good place to be an investigative journalist as Hollman Morris can attest. As I noted last week, Hollman Morris, an award-winning Colombian journalist, television producer and a defender of human rights, was denied a visa to study as a Neiman Fellow at Harvard University by the Obama Administration. The Washington Post has some more details on the decision:

In his work reporting on this country's drug-fueled conflict, Colombian journalist Hollman Morris has met frequently with high-ranking American officials and been received at agencies from the State Department to the Pentagon.

In January, it was a lunch with State's No. 2, James B. Steinberg, at the residence of the American ambassador in Bogotá. A few months before that, he had met Daniel Restrepo, senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, to discuss alleged abuses by Colombia's secret police.

But when Morris sought a U.S. student visa so he could take a fellowship for journalists at Harvard University, his application was denied. He was ineligible, U.S. officials told him, under the "terrorist activities" section of the USA Patriot Act.

The suggestion that Hollman Morris is engaged in "terrorist activities" or that he "represents terrorist organizations" is laughable. Only President Uribe who views anyone who dares to criticize him as an "accomplice of terrorism" and who thinks that human rights groups are but the "intellectual bloc of the FARC" would think such. It is tragic that the Obama Administration would endorse such a view.

More from the Post's story:

Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU lawyer in New York, said the visa denial appeared to be ideological, because no public information tying Morris to terrorism has surfaced. Jaffer had litigated Bush administration exclusions of two prominent Muslim academics, Adam Habib from South Africa and Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen who teaches at Oxford University. The Obama administration rescinded those denials after judges ruled that the government had not made a case for excluding the men.

Jaffer said the Morris case "does raise questions about whether the Obama administration has actually retired the practice of ideological exclusions." In decades past, under a 1950s-era law designed to limit the entry of communists and their supporters, the United States barred prominent intellectuals including writers Doris Lessing and Pablo Neruda.

The exact reason for Morris's denial is unclear. But on June 16, at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Morris was given a "refusal worksheet" detailing how he could be denied for engaging in terrorist acts or representing terrorist organizations.

An embassy spokeswoman, Ana Duque, said that privacy rules prevented U.S. officials from elaborating. "It's all between the applicant and the consular section," Duque said. Morris and those who support him, including Human Rights Watch and the Nieman Foundation for journalists at Harvard, contend that the Uribe administration orchestrated the denial because of his work. Uribe has frequently accused Morris of ties to Colombia's largest rebel group, calling him "an accomplice to terrorism" in one speech last year.

Morris, in an interview Friday, said, "If you have proof that I am a guerrilla, then why not put me in jail? Why just this campaign to discredit?"

José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch's Americas division, said there is evidence to show that Colombia's intelligence agency, the Department of Administrative Security, or DAS, "engaged in a deliberate effort to win cancellation of his visa by linking Hollman Morris with the FARC," the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Vice President Francisco Santos, asked to comment on the case, declined an interview.

According to documents prosecutors have made public, the DAS had begun a campaign to discredit Morris by tying him to the FARC. Among the strategies were plans to "press for the suspension of the visa."

The DAS's possible role in providing the United States with information on Morris has raised concerns among some Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill who work on American policy toward Colombia. A congressional aide who helps shape Latin America policy said that "we have requested, with urgency, a full intelligence briefing on the extremely serious allegations" against Morris.

The aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to publicly comment, said the lawmakers suspect "that the DAS blackballed him because he dared to investigate DAS abuses, which now have been verified and are widely known."


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Smokin' Jamaica

I have a friend from college who used to go down to Jamaica every year. Curious as to why someone would do this year in and year out, given the dozens of other exciting destinations in the Caribbean, I asked him well why Jamaica. He demurred that he enjoyed "smokin' Jamaica." My retort then was that he should try smoking Belize.

My point with the above anecdote is that there has been for some time now a drug culture throughout the Caribbean. If a cannabis infused vacation is your thing, well, the lands beyond the Rio Grande offer an array of exotic, if dazed, experiences. Still given this week's events in the Kingston slum of Tivoli Gardens, I'm not sure how many are now willing to head down to Jamaica. That's likely a problem for a country whose largest primary foreign exchange earner is the tourist trade even if most tourists never venture far from the beach of their walled off hotel.

The news out of Jamaica, while shocking, should not surprise. What once we could term "banana republics" are now fully dysfunctional narco-states and Jamaica isn't even Exhibit A. Try Honduras for that. Put down Haiti as Exhibit B. On the list of Western Hemispheric narco-states, Jamaica is perhaps Exhibit E or F. While the on-going drug wars in Colombia and Mexico garner more attention, the reality is that by virtue of their size drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) are unlikely to ever capture the Colombian or Mexican state even as they made significant inroads in corrupting the state and society. While the drug trade is a multi-billion industry in Colombia, it is now less than one percent of Colombian GDP - the 2008 UN estimate is that the drug trade accounts for 0.8 percent of Colombian GDP down from 7 to 8 percent at its peak in the late 1980s. It's not so much that drug trade has been curtailed but rather that the Colombian economy has grown.

That's not the case in Jamaica, which lacks a diversified economy. Other than people, Jamaica's largest export is bauxite. Apart from Botswana and Chile, it's hard to think of a successful developing world economy based on its mining sector. Certainly for Jamaica, bauxite has not proved a road to riches. Jamaica still produces an array of tropical agricultural products from bananas to sugar and coffee but even so Jamaican agriculture sector is undercapitalized and largely inefficient. But for favorable entry into the EU, Jamaican bananas could not compete with Ecuadorian or Central American bananas. Still the country's biggest problem is that it lacks a value-added manufacturing sector. Unemployment is about 15 percent with perhaps an additional one in three underemployed. In short, the dire economy has made Jamaica ripe for DTOs willing to exploit vulnerable Jamaicans. Sixty-three percent of all arrests at US airports in 2007 for cocaine possession involved passengers on flights from Jamaica. The cocaine may be Colombian but the mules are Jamaican.

There is one other thing you have to know about Jamaica and its political system. The country doesn't have political parties as much as it has armed gangs that compete in electoral contests. In the 1960s, Jamaica's two main parties, the Jamaican People's National Party and the Jamaican Labour Party, began arming the gangs of inner-city Kingston and Montego Bay. Guns for votes. Deliver the votes and you can run your neighborhood. The formula has made Jamaican elections the deadliest in the world.

And the presence of armed gangs that controlled whole sectors of the island only facilitated the entry of Colombian DTOs. And as Jamaica's role in the global drug trade grew, that cancer began to eat away at Jamaican state. All this was brought home in April 2001 when a drug kingpin named William Moore better known as Don Willie Haggart was killed for running afoul of his Colombian handlers. Now what was impressive about Don Willie Haggart was the funeral he got.

His body lay in state in Kingston's national arena, an honour reserved for only the greatest Jamaicans, such as former Prime Minister Michael Manley and reggae great Bob Marley. According to the press reports at the time, it took three and a half hours for his black Mercedes hearse to push through the crowds to the arena, where more than 5,000 people waited, including the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Housing and the Minister of Transport and Water, all from the then ruling People's National Party, the PNP.

So am I surprised that the current Prime Minister Bruce Golding of the now ruling Jamaican Labour Party, the JLP, tried to protect our current hero of Tivoli Gardens, Christopher "Dudus" Coke, the most aptly named drug gangster ever, from extradition? Not in the least. I'm more surprised that Prime Minister Golding signed his own political death warrant by agreeing to extradite the aforementioned Coke to the US. In the greatest of ironies, Prime Minister Golding's parliamentary district includes Tivoli Gardens and much of West Kingston. But I suspect that to most residents of Tivoli Gardens, it is Christopher "Dudus" Coke who is effectively the state in that area. It is Christopher "Dudus" Coke who provides jobs and largesse to desperate residents. You and I may not think of men like Christopher "Dudus" Coke as Robin Hoods but the locals sure do and it's their opinion that matters.

Tivoli Gardens and West Kingston is now a war zone. The Jamaican state has no choice but to act. Whether Christopher "Dudus" Coke is captured or not is no longer relevant but what is relevant is that yet again the world is witness to the on-going failed war on drugs. If Christopher "Dudus" Coke is captured there are hundreds ready to take his place in the drug hierarchy. 

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Adiós Uribe

It's done. It's official. The Uribe era in Colombia will end on August 7, 2010. By a vote of 7 to 2, the Colombian Constitutional Court has struck down a re-election referendum that might have permitted Álvaro Uribe Vélez a second successive term in office. No Colombian President had ever served two successive terms, much less three.

For Colombia, this is a singular moment, one to be savored and enjoyed. The rule of law has triumphed and Colombian democracy strengthened. Colombian democracy has long been described as a conversation among gentlemen. That quality still exists. The country has long been led by a elite, morphing in the last century from a narrow economic one to a broader more technocratic one, with power rotated. In the 19th century, presidential terms were limited to two years. In the 20th century, presidential terms were limited to four years. Both the Constitution of 1886 and the one that replaced it in 1991 limited individuals to non-successive terms. The rational behind this clause was to avoid the plague that so afflicts the rest of Latin America, the tendency for caudillos to perpetuate themselves in power. 

In 2005 when the Colombian state faced an existential threat, the country voted overwhelmingly to allow Uribe a second term so that he might be able to deepen the security policies collectively known as democratic security that were turning the tide against the FARC. It was understood by most Colombians that this was a one time deal. But overzealous supporters sought to maintain Uribe and by extension themselves premised on the dubious assertion that it was the reflection of the popular will. It was a mistake to do so because while most Colombians supported Uribe's policies, many were not prepared to jettison two hundred years of Colombian political traditions.

The Court today ruled on largely technical issues. The group that led the effort broke campaign finance laws, pressured illegal votes in Congress, and failed to properly follow a whole host of Colombian electoral laws. It is on these grounds that the Court struck down the referendum. The Court also ended Uribe's political career. In what can only be described as the greatest act of poetic justice, Uribe is now the only Colombian barred from the Presidency.

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On Haïti


Bay kou bliye pote mak sonje
He who strikes the blow forgets, he who bears the bruises remembers.
— Haitian Proverb


The libertarian economist Tyler Cowen who blogs at Marginal Revolution asks why is Haiti so poor and posits a few hypotheses:

1. Haiti cut its colonial ties too early, rebelling against the French in the early 19th century and achieving complete independence. Guadaloupe and Martinique are still riding the gravy train and French aid is a huge chunk of their gdps.

2. Haiti was a French colony in the first place and French colonies do less well.

3. Sugar cane gave Haiti some early characteristics of "the resource curse," dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

4. Haiti was doing OK until the Duvaliers destroyed civil society, thus putting the country on a path toward destruction. It is a more or less random one-time event which wrecked the place.

5. Hegel was correct that the "voodoo religion," with its intransitive power relations among the gods, was prone to producing political intransitivity as well. (Isn't that a startling insight for a guy who didn't travel the broader world much?)

6. For reasons peculiar to the history of the slave trade, Haitian slaves came from many different parts of Africa and thus Haitian internal culture has long had lower levels of cohesion and cooperation. (The former point about the mix is true, but the cultural point is speculation.)

7. Haiti has higher than average levels of polygamy (but is this cause or effect?)

8. In the early to mid twentieth century, Haiti was poorly situated to attract Chines e and other immigrants, unlike say Jamaica or Trinidad. It is interesting that many of the wealthiest families in Haiti are Lebanese, such as the Naders.


Leaving aside the absurd suggestion that Haiti is somehow to blame for casting off slavery too early, some of these hypotheses are plausible if incomplete explanations for the enduring poverty of Haiti. Still and not surprisingly Dr. Cowen leaves out one of the more recent ones - the failure of free markets - and a more traditional one - an enduring racism that has pervaded the world's relationship with the world's first black republic. Dr. Cowen can blame voodoo culture but voodoo economics is the greater problem.

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Please Don't Step into My Civil War

Note: I wrote this earlier in the week but refrained from publishing because it is an emotional issue for me and I wasn't satisfied with my writing. From my point of view as a Colombian, I find foreign bases, American or otherwise, on Colombian soil wholly unacceptable. I suspect the genesis for this idea came from either the Pentagon or US Ambassador William Brownfield. The cynic in me wonders if Uribe and Obama traded a free trade agreement for the bases agreement. Whatever the case, I find the whole episode distasteful and it marks a complete rupture of my support for the administration of Alvaro Uribe. President Evo Morales of Bolivia today called the notion of US bases in Colombia an affront to the dignity of Latin America and a betrayal (una traición). I don't disagree with that assessment. On Friday afternoon, President Obama waded into the issue for the first time with a short statement which I will cover in a subsequent post. In the interest of providing some background, I am publishing this post now though it was written on Tuesday, August 4th. Regretably, this post isn't as tight I would have like it but in the interest of starting this conversation, I have decided to publish it now.

The US-Colombia bases agreement is the agreement that keeps on growing. It's been hard and emotionally taxing to keep up with all the details and subterfuges of the pending yet still being negotiated US-Colombian bases agreements. Thankfully the American Pro-Consul in Bogotá is rather loquacious. US Ambassador William Brownfield just can't keep his mouth shut and thus gets quoted in the Colombian press day in and day out. At first, it was one base to replace the one lost in Manta to serve as the nerve center for US anti-narcotics operations in the region. We learned of this because it appeared in a US appropriation bill back in early May. The FY 2010 Base budget included $46 million for a 'cooperative security location' at Palanquero Air Base in Cundinamarca. That was how we learned the first details. Colombia was taken aback because for a year the Uribe government denied that it was considering any permanent US military presence in the country. But then Colombians were told that by the kind Ambassador that these weren't really bases but 'cooperative security locations' inside Colombian-run installations, so we shouldn't worry. Derision and laughter was the response in the Colombian press.

And given the garrulous nature of Ambassador Brownfield, various members of the Uribe government and the Colombian military have had to respond issuing clarifications and further leaking details drop by drop. Colombian officials are speaking of the agreement in broader security and anti-terrorism terms in order to sell it. President Uribe has called it a "pact against terrorism." When Uribe says terrorism, he means the FARC.

Just this week, the head of the Colombian military, General Freddy Padilla, said two army bases would also be given US access under the deal as a lagniappe, bringing the total to seven military facilities and spoke about a "joint US-Colombian mission against narco-terrorism". From one air force base, we have gone to seven. Is the avarice of Empire ever satisfied?

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that NSA General Jones was headed to Brasilia bringing with him a "good explanation" for the imperative of placing US troops in Colombia to some rather concerned governments in Latin America who are wondering just why the US needs even one military base in the region in this day and age. General Jones' explanation should be a good one because for the past few years, all American officials have been able to talk about is the Colombian success story thanks to the $5 billion in US aid under the terms of Plan Colombia. So much of a success story that it now requires placing American garrisons across the breadth of the country.

When the US was expelled from the Manta base in Ecuador two weeks ago, left behind were over 300 civil complaints over ten years against American military personnel including murder, rape, destruction of property, sinking of fishing vessels and assault. That the US military got kicked out of Ecuador is something I think worth celebrating. However as a Colombian and with the Uribe government about to sign a SOFA base agreement with the US, I have little to celebrate. The US is about to get access to three air bases, two naval bases including one on each coast and courtesy of General Padilla two more army bases. But that's not all, the agreement is flexible enough to allow the US unrestricted access to the entire country. The US will be allowed to go where the action is. The United States is stepping into my civil war. I'd rather you didn't. An American military presence will prolong Colombia's agony, not shorten it.

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