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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

Colombian journalist Hollman Morris denied U.S. visa to be a Nieman Fellow at Harvard

It’s the time of year when the new class of Nieman Fellows starts arriving here in Cambridge, but we thought you should know about an unprecedented situation currently keeping one of our colleagues away. Hollman Morris Rincón, an independent journalist in Colombia, won a Nieman Fellowship this spring to study conflict negotiation strategies, international criminal court procedures, and the Rome Statute. I’ll just quote the AP:

BOGOTA, Colombia — 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.

The curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, which has offered the mid-career fellowships since 1938, said Thursday 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.

Here’s a video of Hollman talking about human rights abuses in Colombia; here’s an interview from the Center for Investigative Reporting with Hollman and his brother and colleague Juan Pablo Morris about their work:

The Morris brothers take their cameras deep into the Colombian countryside to probe into the disappearance of thousands of individuals kidnapped over the past decade, and track efforts to unearth their graves far from the cosmopolitan capital city of Bogotá or the eyes of the international or global press. “Our aim,” Juan Pablo told us, “is to reconstruct the memory of those atrocities….Many of the people who followed the paramilitaries in the 1980s and 90s are running the country today.”

Contravia has uncovered links between paramilitary leaders and high officials in Colombian politics and finance. Thirty senators and representatives in the Colombian Congress have been imprisoned because of their ties to the paramilitary death squads; another sixty have been investigated. That’s a third of Colombia’s 268 member Congress, giving rise to a new term — ‘para-politica’ — to describe the ongoing crisis as one top politician after another is accused of complicity with the para-military squads. Most of those accused represent political parties that are part of the governing coalition led by President Alvaro Uribe.

Hollman Morris was given the Human Rights Defender Award by Human Rights Watch in 2007. He’s been forced to leave Colombia several times for extended periods after the airing of Contravía revelations. The show does not receive commercial backing; subsidies come from the Open Society Institute, the European Union and other international sources.

In February 2009, Contravía’s reporting prompted a denunciation by the government: Colombia’s Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos, accused Hollman Morris on national radio of being “close to the guerillas,” after he conducted several interviews with FARC hostages who were later released. Uribe himself denounced Morris to the national press, and implied he was a member of the “intellectual bloc” of the FARC.

Santos is now the president-elect of Colombia and, ironically enough, was a Nieman Fellow himself while a newspaperman in the 1980s, alongside esteemed American journalists like Eugene Robinson, Gene Weingarten, and Eileen McNamara.

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.”

Obviously, we’re hoping this can be resolved. For decades, the Nieman Fellowships have brought journalists from around the world to Harvard to study and learn from one another in an atmosphere of open exchange. My boss, curator Bob Giles, has written to the State Department asking it to change its decision, and other forces are rallying in his support. I don’t know that we have many readers in Foggy Bottom, but if we do, we sincerely hope this won’t be the first time an American political decision has prevented a foreign journalist from studying with us.

                                   
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  • http://www.marcelavaldes.com Marcela Valdes

    It is astonishing to me that the U.S. government would collaborate with Colombia to repress the freedom of expression and the education of one of the country’s leading journalists. Has the U.S. State Department issued a cogent explanation for its actions?

  • Merlinaut

    Unbelievable!

  • Peter Cave

    Is Obama trying to be the new Nixon.

  • Pingback: Another disgrace by the State Department « Hidden Cause, Visible Effects

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  • Mark Hankins

    Not to undercut what may be able to be done politically and diplomatically, but I bet the geeks next door at MIT would welcome the opportunity for a high-profile application of cutting edge telepresence equipment. A technological end-run (even if it’s just temporary while the State Department clears the flag on his visa) will undoubtedly have certain people tearing their hair out. Pick up the phone…

  • clarsen

    I hope that this IS resolved, but the shame of the US government’s repression of a courageous defender of human rights will remain as further testimony to the US’s continually destructive role in the region.

  • Globetrotter

    The AP news story contained several factual errors and there is more to the story than was reported. Unfortunately, the Nieman foundation only reported one side.

  • Pingback: EUA usam Ato Patriota para negar permanentemente o visto do jornalista colombiano Hollman Morris

  • Mora

    I beg to differ that this guy is some sort of jounalistic saint. I don’t even think he makes the grade on basic journalistic ethics.

    How is it this guy’s name turns up as a friend in the FARC computer captured by the Colombian army in March 2008? Did other journalists similarly turn up? None that I am aware of. One important detail to remember: the computer was never expected to be made public.

    Two: How do you explain Morris’ behavior last February 1, 2009, when he collaborated with FARC’s request to interview four hostages as a condition for their release, much the way fringe-left reporters in the past used to ‘interview’ tortured American POWS in North Vietnamese prisons to provide a propaganda kick to the communist government. How would you like to be a hostage in the jungle being told that as a condition of your release, you would have to submit to an interview by Morris and god help you if you didn’t condemn President Uribe or make anti-government statements, given Morris’ bias. Morris’ collaboration with FARC made the hostage release a PR stunt for the FARC terrorists and the people supposedly mediating their release which in turn served political purposes of the anti-Uribe crowd. It also encouraged FARC to go kidnap more people to perpetrate these political gains.

    I think Morris’ behavior raises serious questions about his idea of journalistic ethics. Someone ought to ask him why he can’t get a job with a real Colombian newspaper (and there are many of them), given his out-there biases, and willingness to romanticize and excuse and enable FARC jungle terrorists.

  • Zaby Steiner

    PLEASE! Hollman Morris is very biased and before you launch a campaign to condemn the US government for denying entry to this person, you need to know that they must have their reasons to do so. He is not the objective reported here portrayed.

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  • Paul Wolf

    One of the basic ethics principles in journalism is to report the news, but not make news. Trying to be a go-between in hostage release negotiations is is not really a journalistic activity. Other people who were found communicating with Raul Reyes when his laptop was confiscated also got into trouble.

    The stories about mass graves of the AUC and the parapolitica scandal are widely reported in Colombia – the fact that Mr Benton is mispronouncing a lot of spanish words is a give-away that he’s not familiar with the Colombian press. All this just makes Harvard look really stupid.

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  • Pingback: Hollman Morris: El periodista que no puede ingresar a Estados Unidos | PuroPeriodismo

  • Pingback: An update on Colombian journalist Hollman Morris » Nieman Journalism Lab

  • http://rapido.com Pedro El Rapido

    Morris is a well known terrorist in colombia. He is a member of the FARC and has been involved in various kidnappings. The FARC kidnapp inocent citizens and then contact Morris to interview the kidnapped. Morris then do interviews in a way that the FARC is not shown as the murderers degenerates they are. Then Morris gets a part of the ransom money for his interview. I congratulate the american government, Morris is a threat to america and his only intention is to infiltrate american universities with propaganda of th terrorist organization he belongs to: the FARC.

  • Mill

    So, some peoples here claims to outsmart Harvard, International journalism groups and human rights organizations. Have you guys ever seen Morris’s works and his effort to help thousands of kidnapped?
    US. government is now no better than China that it try to save its own interests and ignore some human rights.

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  • http://renice.com/blog Renice Wernette

    The U.S. government has denied a visa to attend a fellowship… at *Harvard*?! Geez Barack, is Dub still.in.charge?

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  • Pingback: Reversed: Colombia journalist Hollman Morris is free to come to Harvard as a Nieman Fellow » Nieman Journalism Lab

  • USINPAC

    The suspension of interviews at one of the highest traffic consulates is unfortunate and hope that they resume at the earliest.

  • Thetruthalwayscometolight

    I’m from Colombia and know pretty much all what has been happening with this journalist, there are probes enough that show his relationship with the FARC. He even has faken interviews to make the government appear as the “bad guy” when in reality he is the traitor here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CORPULMUNDO Andes Amazonico Putumayo

    Es falso que Hhollman Morris sea un terrorista para los Putumayenses asi como para los demas Colombianos es un defensor de los Derechos Humanos, lo que a permitido acercarse a los violentos e inconformes del sistema  tradicional de este pais y que esta demostrado que si no hay voces que protesten que se levanten la CORRUPCION desbarata la economia integral Popular administrada por el Ministerio de Hacienda y Credito Publico, manipulada por los Congresistas – Legisladores que han caido poco a poco en la carcel por comprobarseles sus malos manejos descrestados por los mismos autores de miles de crimenes que se han cometido. Comno vemos Santos Calderon su estrategia es hablar, negociar la Paz y lo esta logrando en la Ciudad de la Habana Cuba. Esa Paz la necesitamos para el bien de todos. Eso es lo que hace Hollman Morris es un bien para el Pueblo Colombiano y quqienes critican destruyen lo que todos anhelamos – la PAZ.
    corpulmundo@gmail.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/CORPULMUNDO Andes Amazonico Putumayo

     Es falso que Hhollman Morris sea un terrorista para los Putumayenses asi
    como para los demas Colombianos es un defensor de los Derechos Humanos,
    lo que a permitido acercarse a los violentos e inconformes del sistema 
    tradicional de este pais y que esta demostrado que si no hay voces que
    protesten que se levanten la CORRUPCION desbarata la economia integral
    Popular administrada por el Ministerio de Hacienda y Credito Publico,
    manipulada por los Congresistas – Legisladores que han caido poco a poco
    en la carcel por comprobarseles sus malos manejos descrestados por los
    mismos autores de miles de crimenes que se han cometido. Comno vemos
    Santos Calderon su estrategia es hablar, negociar la Paz y lo esta
    logrando en la Ciudad de la Habana Cuba. Esa Paz la necesitamos para el
    bien de todos. Eso es lo que hace Hollman Morris es un bien para el
    Pueblo Colombiano y quqienes critican destruyen lo que todos anhelamos -
    la PAZ.
    Corproacion Reserva Campesina Pulmon del Mundo    

    It is false that Morris is a terrorist Hhollman for Putumayo and for other Colombians is a defender of human rights, which allowed to approach the violent and unhappy traditional system of this country and that this demonstrated that if no voices to protest the lifting of the whole economy disrupts CORRUPTION Popular administered by the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit, manipulated by Congressmen – Legislators who have fallen gradually in jail for their mismanagement comprobarseles descrestados by the same authors of thousands of crimes that have been committed. Comno see Santos Calderon’s strategy is to talk, negotiate peace and he is succeeding in Havana Cuba. That peace the need for the good of all. That is what makes Hollman Morris is a good for the Colombian people and criticize quqienes destroy what we all crave – peace.
    corpulmundo@gmail.comRodrigo Ezequiel Davila Caicedo

  • http://www.facebook.com/CORPULMUNDO Andes Amazonico Putumayo

       Es falso que Hhollman Morris sea un terrorista para los Putumayenses asi como para los demas Colombianos es un defensor de los Derechos Humanos, lo que a permitido acercarse a los violentos e inconformes del sistema  tradicional de este pais y que esta demostrado que si no hay voces que protesten que se levanten la CORRUPCION desbarata la economia integral Popular administrada por el Ministerio de Hacienda y Credito Publico, manipulada por los Congresistas – Legisladores que han caido poco a poco en la carcel por comprobarseles sus malos manejos descrestados por los mismos autores de miles de crimenes que se han cometido. Comno vemos Santos Calderon su estrategia es hablar, negociar la Paz y lo esta logrando en la Ciudad de la Habana Cuba. Esa Paz la necesitamos para el bien de todos. Eso es lo que hace Hollman Morris es un bien para el Pueblo Colombiano y quqienes critican destruyen lo que todos anhelamos – la PAZ.Corporacion Reserva Campesina Pulmon del Mundo    

    It is false that Morris is a terrorist Hhollman for Putumayo and for
    other Colombians is a defender of human rights, which allowed to
    approach the violent and unhappy traditional system of this country and
    that this demonstrated that if no voices to protest the lifting of the
    whole economy disrupts CORRUPTION Popular administered by the Ministry
    of Finance and Public Credit, manipulated by Congressmen – Legislators
    who have fallen gradually in jail for their mismanagement comprobarseles
    descrestados by the same authors of thousands of crimes that have been
    committed. Comno see Santos Calderon’s strategy is to talk, negotiate
    peace and he is succeeding in Havana Cuba. That peace the need for the
    good of all. That is what makes Hollman Morris is a good for the
    Colombian people and criticize quqienes destroy what we all crave –
    peace.corpulmundo@gmail.comRodrigo Ezequiel Davila Caicedo

  • BobbyWong

    Google news on “Hollman Morris” – there is no coverage on this in US media.

    Official censorship? Self-censorship? I’m not sure which is worse.