Friday, July 30, 2010

U.S. Groups Welcome the United States’ Decision to Grant Visa to Hollman Morris

The Center for International Policy, Washington Office on Latin America, Latin America Working Group and U.S. Office on Colombia welcome the U.S. State Department’s decision to reverse their initial denial of a visa to Colombian independent journalist Hollman Morris. Our groups, which have worked with Mr. Morris for years, were greatly disturbed when Morris was denied a visa in July under the terrorist activities section of the Patriot Act. When Mr. Morris’ visa was denied, we joined others in urging U.S. policymakers to change this decision.

Mr. Morris’s work is instrumental in raising awareness regarding the victims of Colombia’s internal armed conflict and their rights to justice. Mr. Morris reports from Colombia’s most conflict-ridden areas and on some of the country’s most controversial and politically sensitive topics. He served a key role in raising global awareness of many human rights abuses, including the 2005 massacre in the San José de Apartadó peace community. Always with a view to reporting from the perspective of those affected by Colombia’s legal and illegal armed groups, corruption and adverse effects of anti-narcotics policies, Mr. Morris’s work sheds light on Colombia’s reality to Colombians and the world.

His courageous independent reporting made him the recipient of prestigious human rights awards. It has also made him the target of political persecution and the recipient of multiple death threats. Mr. Morris was one of the many human rights defenders and government critics who were victimized by Colombia’s Administrative Security Agency (DAS). As per our report Far Worse than Watergate, on the DAS intelligence scandal, Mr. Morris was subjected to illegal surveillance, wiretapping and a defamation campaign.

We thank U.S. policymakers for reversing this decision in favor of Mr. Morris and freedom of expression in Colombia. We also look forward to Morris’s time in the United States as a Neiman Foundation Fellow. It is our hope that Mr. Morris’s time in the United States will enable him to educate and inspire others in the field of investigative and independent journalism. We also hope that in the future he will be able to make his important contributions as a journalist without the fear of physical harm and political persecution.

For more information contact:

Gimena Sanchez, Senior Associate
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
(202) 797-2171;

Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
(202) 546-7010;

Kelly Nicholls, Executive Director
US Office on Colombia (USOC)
(202) 232-8090;

Abigail Poe, Director of Latin America Security program
Center for International Policy (CIP)
(202) 232-3317;

Friday, July 16, 2010

Colombia Reports: Morris' visa case shows little change in Obama policy

Morris' visa case shows little change in Obama policy

The rejection of Hollman Morris’s visa application shows that, in U.S. policy toward Colombia, the line between terrorism and political dissent is appallingly blurry.

Some of us hoped, but there was no change. Even under Obama, it seems, the U.S. government struggles to distinguish between the Colombian terrorists, drug traffickers and political dissidents. Last week, the victim was Colombian journalist Hollman Morris. Morris, one of twelve journalists participating in Harvard University’s prestigious Nieman Fellowship program, had his application for a U.S. visa denied, apparently due to suspicions of terrorist activities.

In some ways, this is hardly surprising. Morris has a long history of problems with the authorities, mainly because he is one of few prominent journalists willing to investigate the Colombian government’s ties to paramilitary groups. President Uribe has publicly insulted Morris on more than one occasion and even called him “an accomplice to terrorism”. (Of course, despite repeated efforts, the government has never proven any links between Morris and terrorist groups.) Moreover, after the September 11th attacks, there is nothing at all shocking about a foreigner - especially a Colombian - having his or her visa request unjustly denied.

But what makes Morris’s case perplexing is that he is a famous journalist whom many high-ranking American officials hold in high esteem. Not too long ago, for example, Morris visited the U.S. and met with Dan Restrepo, the U.S. National Security Council’s top official for Western Hemisphere affairs, to discuss human rights abuses in Colombia. Several high-ranking State Department officials are fans of Morris and have called his work ‘courageous’.

So what explains the U.S. government’s rejection of Morris’s visa request? One possible explanation is that it was merely a mistake somewhere along the bureaucratic assembly line that manages American visa applications. His professional history is certainly prone to such misinterpretation by foreign officials. For example, Morris is known to have maintained contact with FARC guerrillas while reporting on Colombia’s armed conflict. On the other hand, the fact that Morris has been granted U.S. visas many times before raises the question of why this time was different.

Perhaps the answer has something to do with Colombian government’s rapidly intensifying campaign to discredit Morris. Having been called an accomplice to terrorism by the most U.S.-friendly President in the Americas is probably not a good thing when applying for an American visa. In fact, given that Colombia is among the most dangerous countries on Earth for journalists, a visa denial is probably among the mildest things that could have resulted from Uribe’s baseless accusations.

Although Uribe’s public spat with Morris probably some indirect influence on his visa application process, a more likely direct culprit is the Administrative Security Department (DAS in its Spanish acronym). Colombia’s infamously corrupt intelligence agency has a long, well-documented history of harassing and illegally monitoring critics of the government. Moreover, the DAS has the ability to spread information around the international intelligence community. American NGO Human Rights Watch has already accused the DAS of playing a direct role in the denial of Morris’s visa and some recently revealed documents do indeed reveal an active DAS campaign to tarnish Morris’s reputation.

That Uribe and the DAS are treating innocent domestic critics as terrorists is nothing new. What is most perplexing worrying about Morris’s case is the fact that the U.S. government remains so susceptible to such nonsense. As mentioned above, many high-ranking U.S. officials see Morris as a courageous journalist, not a terrorist sympathizer. Nevertheless, the denial of his visa request reveals a huge gap in attitudes and perceptions between the upper echelons State Department and the White House on the one hand and American security agencies on the other.

The most prominent recent example of this fragmentation was the public relations debacle surrounding an agreement to allow the American military to use several Colombian military bases. Soon after the deal was revealed, Colombia´s neighbors expressed concerns about the apparent secrecy of the deal. When top American diplomats struggled to explain their country’s plans for the bases, it became clear that the U.S.’s military leadership and its diplomatic corps were not on the same page about what the agreement consisted of and what its purpose was.

The root problem behind this fragmentation is the Obama administration´s failure to define its stance on Colombia policy. On the one hand, the President and his top appointees seem to be more cautious and skeptical of the Uribe government than was the Bush administration. As a candidate, for example, Obama expressed reservations about a free trade agreement with Colombia due to the country’s high murder rate for union members. The administration’s top officials dealing with U.S.-Latin America relations, including Mr. Restrepo, also seem more willing to sit down and listen to some of Uribe’s harshest critics, like Morris.

On the other hand, the current administration is also sending clear messages of continuity from the Bush years. During and following Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Colombia, top American officials have showered Uribe and his soon-to-be replacement Juan Manuel Santos with praise and confirmed the strength of U.S.-Colombia relations. The rejection of Morris’s visa application is illustrative of the fact that the opinions of the Colombian government, even if they have no proven basis in fact, can still influence the behavior of the American government.

As a result, on a number of key issues – from the free trade agreement to human rights to whether Hollman Morris is a terrorist or a courageous journalist - the highly fragmented U.S. government is sending incoherent, contradictory messages. The new administration’s vision for relations with Colombia remains unclear and time will tell how Juan Manuel Santos’s election will fit into this confusing picture. In the meantime, we can only hope that growing pressure from journalists´ groups, human rights activists and Harvard University will lead the U.S. government to rescind its rejection of Morris´s visa application.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

AAUP on Hollman Morris Visa Denial

Free Speech Groups Ask Secretary Clinton To Review Exclusion Of Colombian Journalist

New York– The American Civil Liberties Union, American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center today sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing alarm over reports that prominent Colombian journalist Hollman Morris was denied a visa to travel to the United States. Morris was one of 12 international journalists selected to participate in the Nieman fellowship program at Harvard University during the 2010-11 academic year. However, when he applied for a visa in order to attend the program, he was informed by the U.S. embassy in Bogota that he had been found permanently ineligible for a visa under the Patriot Act.

According to today’s letter, the exclusion of Morris limits the ability of his “colleagues and hosts to exercise fully their First Amendment rights,” and is out of step with “this administration’s stated commitment to fostering a free exchange of information and ideas between the U.S. and the world.”

Earlier this year, Clinton signed orders effectively lifting the exclusion from the United States of prominent scholars Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan.

The full text of the letter is online (.pdf) and below.

July 13, 2010

Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

We are writing on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of University Professors, and PEN American Center to express our alarm over reports that prominent Colombian journalist Hollman Morris has been denied a visa to travel to the United States.

Mr. Morris has traveled to the United States numerous times in the past at the invitation of leading human rights and journalists’ organizations interested in his experiences as a journalist covering the armed conflict in Colombia and his perspective on the political situation in his country. In 2007 he was honored by Human Rights Watch with its prestigious Human Rights Defender award, and he was one of 12 international journalists selected to participate in the Nieman fellowship program at Harvard University for the 2010-2011 academic year. The Nieman fellowship program is the oldest and most distinguished program for mid-career journalists in the world. It was in applying for a visa to attend this program that Mr. Morris was reportedly informed by a consular official at the U.S. embassy in Bogota that he has been found permanently ineligible for a visa under the security provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Earlier this year, our organizations wrote to thank you for signing orders effectively ending the exclusion of Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan, two internationally-recognized scholars who had been barred from traveling to the United States by the previous administration. Professor Habib and Professor Ramadan were among dozens of prominent foreign intellectuals and writers who had visas canceled or denied between 2001 and 2008 to prevent them from assuming teaching posts at U.S. universities, fulfilling speaking engagements with U.S. audiences, and attending U.S. academic conferences. Deeply troubled by this resurgence in the discredited practice of ideological exclusion, we were gratified by your efforts to lift the ban on these two colleagues and hopeful that this signaled a willingness on the part of the Obama administration to end the practice of barring those whose views the government disfavors from the United States. No legitimate interest is served by the exclusion of foreign nationals on ideological grounds. Ideological exclusion impoverishes intellectual inquiry and debate in the United States, suggests to the world that our country is more interested in silencing than engaging its critics, and undermines our ability to support dissent in politically repressive nations.

The recent news that Mr. Morris has been denied a visa runs counter to this administration’s decisions in the Habib and Ramadan cases. Not only does his exclusion limit the ability of his Harvard colleagues and hosts to fully exercise their First Amendment rights, it also, by virtue of the reach and stature of the Nieman program, projects a particularly visible and troubling message—a message that clearly does not accord with this administration’s stated commitment to fostering a free exchange of information and ideas between the U.S. and the world. We therefore ask you to review the exclusion of Hollman Morris as a matter of urgency, with an eye toward allowing him to join his colleagues at Harvard University in early September.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter. If you have any questions, please contact ACLU Legislative Counsel Joanne Lin.

Anthony Romero
Executive Director

Gary Rhoades
General Secretary

Kwame Anthony Appiah
PEN American Center

cc: Harold Koh
Legal Advisor to the Secretary of State

LA Times STory on Hollman Morris Visa Denial by US

Denied a Nieman, by the U.S.

For the first time, the U.S. has denied a journalist entry to participate in Harvard University's Nieman Fellowship program.

By Robert H. Giles

4:41 PM PDT, July 13, 2010

It is not uncommon for international journalists who come to Harvard University as Nieman fellows to be out of favor with their governments. They often work in countries where free expression and the rule of law exist in name only. They report in an atmosphere of danger where threats, and sometimes violence, are common tools to encourage self-censorship and silence truth-telling.

Colombian journalist Hollman Morris has long worked in challenging conditions, producing probing television reports that document his country's long and complex civil war. He has built contacts with the left-wing guerilla group known as the FARC and told stories of the conflict's victims. He has revealed abuses by the country's intelligence service and enraged government officials, including the president, Alvaro Uribe, who once called him "an accomplice to terrorism."

Morris was awarded a Nieman Fellowship in journalism this spring and planned to travel to the United States to begin his studies at Harvard in the fall. But then, last week, he was told by a U.S. consular official in Bogota that he was being denied a visa under the "terrorist activities" section of the Patriot Act.

In the 60 years that foreign journalists have participated in the Nieman program, they have sometimes had trouble getting their own countries to allow them to come. The foundation's first brush with the harsh reality of journalism under repressive regimes came in 1960, when Lewis Nkosi, a black South African and writer for Drum, a magazine for black South Africans, was awarded a fellowship. His application for a passport was denied by the country's apartheid government. Angry and bitter, he applied for an exit visa. It enabled him to leave, but he was forbidden to ever return.

Morris, though, is the first person in Nieman history to be denied the right to participate not by his own country but by ours. The denial is alarming. It would represent a major recasting of press freedom doctrine if journalists, by establishing contacts with so-called terrorist organizations in the process of gathering news, open themselves to accusations of terrorist activities and the possibility of being barred from travel to the United States.

For the full story, go to: LA TIMES.

Comunicado – Sobre la situación migratoria del periodista Hollman Morris

Comunicado – Sobre la situación migratoria del periodista Hollman Morris

La FLIP pide que el Departamento de Estado excluya información proveniente del DAS y la Presidencia de la República de su análisis sobre la situación migratoria de Hollman Morris.

Públicamente se ha conocido que el Departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos le negó la admisibilidad en ese país al periodista Hollman Morris, por consideraciones contenidas en la Ley Patriota contra el terrorismo.

Desde el año 2004 la FLIP se ha pronunciado sobre la situación de riesgo del periodista Morris, asociada a denuncias públicas del presidente de la República a las que nunca se ha aportado prueba real y en cambio varias que sí demostraron ser infundadas.

En investigaciones actuales de la Fiscalía General de la Nación y la Corte Suprema de Justicia, se han encontrado documentos relativos a un plan de “desprestigio nacional e internacional” contra el periodista Morris. Los autores de esos documentos son directivos del Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), entidad adscrita a la Presidencia de la República (que por lo demás es la autoridad migratoria de Colombia), sobre quienes en este momento pesan medidas de aseguramiento de la Fiscalía General de la Nación y sus destinatarios eran funcionarios de la Presidencia de la República que también son objeto de investigación por parte de la Fiscalía.

De acuerdo con las consideraciones que hasta este momento han sido discutidas frente a Jueces de Garantías los funcionarios investigados fabricaron y ordenaron fabricar documentos con hechos apócrifos para involucrar al periodista en relaciones con la organización terrorista, con el propósito de neutralizar una amenaza al Estado, que también ha resultado ficticia.

En consecuencia, la Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP) le quiere solicitar a las autoridades correspondientes en Estados Unidos que consideren los hechos de conocimiento público que contaminan la información que pueden haber recibido del Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS) y la Presidencia de la República sobre el periodista Hollman Morris.

En consecuencia, nos unimos al llamado de las organizaciones norteamericanas de libertad de expresión, para que la persecución contra Morris pueda cesar y él pueda cumplir con una beca en la Universidad de Harvard que ganó por su coraje y por la calidad de su trabajo periodístico.

Obama Administration Keeping Award-Winning Investigative Journalist Out of Harvard University


I know it's been a while since I last posted anything on this blog, making it somewhat irrelevant, BUT I thought I'd share this urgent story with you, in case you haven't heard about it.

Indeed, as if you needed more evidence of the permanence of Bush Administration policies under the "enlightened" Obama team, here's the latest:

The U.S. government has denied a visa to a prominent Colombian journalist who specializes in conflict and human rights reporting to attend a prestigious fellowship at Harvard University.

Hollman Morris, who produces an independent TV news program called “Contravia,” has been highly critical of ties between illegal far-right militias and allies of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, Washington’s closest ally in Latin America. We have posted a number of his reports on this blog, as well as stories about Morris' role in trying to confront the media darkness that has been prevalent under the eight years of Uribe.

The curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, which has offered the mid-career fellowships since 1938, said last week that a consular official at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota told him Morris was ruled permanently ineligible for a visa under the “Terrorist activities” section of the USA Patriot Act.

This is preposterous, and fails to take into consideration the manipulative and deliberate actions taken under the Uribe government to discredit opposition leaders, elected officials, journalists, trade union leaders and human rights workers. Hollman Morris has been the direct recipient of this vicious and systematic attempt at discrediting his work.

As you can see from this report put out recently by a coalition of Latin American and U.S.-based human rights researchers entitled "Worse Than Watergate," the campaign has been well documented in Colombia, but for some reason has been ignored by the State Department in accepting the Uribe government's claim that Morris is a threat, thus denying his visa.

Morris has been a frequent visitor to the U.S. in the past, and we've organized several public screenings of some of his work in the New York Metropolitan area, including at NYU in 2007. His reports about the Colombian war zone have frequently rubbed the Uribe PR team the wrong way because they consistently challenge the conventional wisdom that "Democratic Security" has worked for the last eight years. Hollman tells the stories the major corporate media in Colombia refuse to tell, and in a way that audiences can relate to.

The report from the Latin American Working Group and Center for International Policy clearly states:

A still-unfolding scandal in Colombia is revealing that the government’s intelligence agency not only spied upon major players in Colombia’s democracy—from Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judges to presidential candidates, from journalists and publishers to human rights defenders, from international organizations to U.S. and European human rights groups—but also carried out dirty tricks, and even death threats, to undermine their legitimate, democratic activities...

The tactics outlined in these operations included: framing a journalist by placing him in a fabricated guerrilla video and requesting the suspension of his visa (possibly to the U.S.); conducting sabotage against Constitutional Court judges; making it appear that opposition politicians and nongovernmental leaders had links to illegal armed groups or were engaged in corruption or adultery; stealing passports and ID cards; making threats; using blackmail."

The independent website Colombia Reports reports on documents from April, allegedly from the Colombian security agency, that appear to call for surveillance and harassment of Hollman, including requesting “the suspension of visa.”

We'll keep you posted on this story.

For more information about this development, go to