by Charles Lemos, Wed Jul 14, 2010 at 04:12:47 AM EDT
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."