NACLA Condemns State Department’s Denial of a Visa to Colombian Journalist Hollman Morris

For Immediate Release

North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA)
Contact: 

Joao Da Silva, (646) 613-1440, ext. 203, joao@nacla.org

NACLA Condemns State Department’s Denial of a Visa to Colombian Journalist Hollman Morris

NEW YORK - The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) denounces the State
Department's decision to deny a visa to Colombian TV journalist Hollman
Morris. Morris was slated to receive the Samuel Chavkin Award for
Integrity in Latin American Journalism, awarded by NACLA in recognition
of his brave and uncompromising coverage of the armed conflict in
Colombia. NACLA originally planned to hold the Chavkin Award ceremony on
June 8 but had to postpone it when it became clear that the U.S.
Embassy was taking much longer than usual to renew Morris's tourist
visa. The government later denied Morris a student visa that would allow
him to take up a prestigious Nieman Foundation fellowship to study at
Harvard University.

The visa denial appears to be intended to punish Morris for his
reporting on the Colombian peace and human rights movement. According to
the "refusal worksheet" provided to Morris by the State Department, the
visa was denied under section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality
Act, which, as amended by section 411 of the USA Patriot Act, bars
visas from being granted to any foreigner who has used his or her
"position of prominence" to "endorse or espouse terrorist activity, or
to persuade others to support terrorist activity or a terrorist
organization."

In denying Morris a visa on these grounds, the State Department joins
the Colombian government in tarring Morris as a "publicist for
terrorism," in the words of Colombian president Álvaro Uribe. Since
coming to power in 2002, Uribe has often portrayed Colombia's human
rights community, peace activists, and others who favor a negotiated
peace settlement as in league with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia (FARC), the country's more than 40-year-old guerrilla
insurgency and a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. Documents made
public in April show that Colombia's Administrative Department of
Security (DAS), a domestic intelligence agency under the command of the
presidency, in 2005 launched what it called a "smear campaign at the
international level" against Morris.

"Negotiate the suspension of [U.S.] visa" appears on the agency's list
of tactics against Morris (which also included the dissemination of
defamatory materials, wiretaps, and physical surveillance). Morris was
targeted as a part of a broader dirty tricks program aimed at silencing
and intimidating government critics; almost two dozen former DAS
officials are awaiting trial on criminal conspiracy charges in
connection with the scandal. Although no evidence has appeared to
suggest that a request from Colombian intelligence directly led the
State Department to deny the visa, the decision nonetheless exactly
coincides with one of the smear campaign's goals.

The most recent accusations against Morris came in February 2009, when
Colombian president-elect Juan Manuel Santos, then Uribe's minister of
defense, joined Uribe in publicly accusing Morris of working with the
FARC. These denunciations came after Morris filmed last-minute
negotiations led by Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba, together with
members of a Colombian peace group and the Red Cross, over the release
of four hostages held by the FARC. The negotiations proved successful,
and the FARC released the hostages. The footage of this was included in
Colombia, la hora de la paz, a documentary later aired on the History
Channel's Latin America network. According to Uribe, Morris's coverage
amounted to pro-guerrilla propaganda, and his contact with the FARC in
his capacity as a journalist amounted to collaborating with them.

Why would the Colombian president resort to calling a well-respected
journalist, whose family has endured numerous death threats, a
terrorist? Because news coverage of successful FARC negotiations is
deeply embarrassing to the Uribe government, whose Bush-style "war on
terror" is premised on the idea that the FARC cannot be negotiated with;
that diplomacy with the guerrillas, who number in the thousands and
control an estimated 30% to 40% of Colombian territory, is misguided;
and that the only solution to the conflict is to crush the enemy, waging
a total war funded by the U.S. government to the tune of $7.3 billion
since 2000.

No credible evidence of Morris's involvement with terrorism has ever
come to light, nor has the Colombian government ever charged him with a
crime. Indeed, his only "crime" has been to cover and take seriously the
Colombian peace and human rights movement-as well as to doggedly expose
the corruption in the Colombian government, the grave human rights
abuses committed by the country's security services, and the political
influence of paramilitary groups. Moreover, the idea that a journalist's
contact with combatants in an armed conflict automatically amounts to
supporting or endorsing them is contrary to mainstream understandings of
journalistic practice.

As Carol Rose noted in a blog entry on the Boston Globe's website,
Morris's visa denial recalls the McCarthy-era practice of "ideological
exclusion," codified in the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, in which the
United States barred entry to artists and intellectuals thought to be
tainted with Communism-notable examples included Graham Greene, Charlie
Chaplin, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Doris Lessing, and
Pablo Neruda. U.S. journalists during this time also faced limits on
their freedom to travel; one of them was Samuel Chavkin, the late
investigative journalist and Latin America correspondent in whose name
NACLA was to bestow an award on Morris.

There is a powerful historical resonance between Chavkin and Morris. In
1951, after two decades of reporting for a variety of news
outlets-including the U.S. Army papers Yank and Stars and
Stripes-Chavkin tried to renew his passport so that he could travel to
Southeast Asia to cover hunger for the humanitarian group CARE. The
State Department refused, saying only that granting him a passport would
"not be in the best interests of the United States." Chavkin did not
get his passport back until 1960, after enduring almost a decade of
forced retirement.

The Chavkin award, established by his family, is meant to encourage
Latin American journalists to expose injustice and oppression, and to
document struggles for social justice and democracy in Latin America. We
can think of no better way to honor Chavkin's legacy, and that of all
other journalists whom governments have tried to silence, than to award
Hollman Morris the Chavkin prize, in absentia if necessary, on a date to
be announced in October.

See nacla.org/node/6670
for a hyperlinked version of this statement.

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The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) is an independent, nonprofit organization founded in 1966 that works toward a world in which the nations and peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean are free from oppression and injustice, and enjoy a relationship with the United States based on mutual respect, free from economic and political subordination.

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