Hollman Morris is a brave and courageous reporter like few others. He is a must in Colombia because otherwise we’d only hear about soap-operas and beauty queens (and Ingrid). He travels to remote parts of Colombia where most journalists don’t dare, no easy feat considering Colombia has the highest number of dead journalists in Latin America. In 2007, Morris won the annual Human Rights Watch Defender Award.
The U.S. always holds up its Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press as if it were plastered on a neon banner. It’s the First Amendment of the Constitution, y’all hear! And the U.S. is habitually lecturing budding democracies like Colombia that they should allow reporters to do their work. This will create a culture of transparency and consequently a fervent civil society, the U.S. likes to say. The State Department is constantly funding programs to train journalists overseas to get off their butts and their phones, and travel to where the story is—and report! Hollman Morris is such a star journalist and that is why he was awarded one of Harvard University’s prestigious Neiman Fellowships for 2010 and 2011. Only twelve international fellows are accepted every year.
But Morris was denied a visa to enter and study in the U.S. This is the first time in the 60-year history of the Neiman program that this has happened.
Morris’s show, “Contravia” (“Against the Current”), exposes stories about paramilitaries carrying out “extrajudicial killings” of innocent peasants: dragging them out of their homes and murdering them and dressing them up to be FARC; stories about paramilitaries and the army causing disappearances and tortures and arbitrary detentions that can last up to two years. A taping I found most chilling was Morris’s interview with a teen-age paramilitary, alias “Robinson.” Robinson has acne and peach-fuzz hair. You’d think he will tell you he was in the soccer team in his high school. But Robinson candidly speaks of a paramilitary commander who made him and other boys kill people and drink their blood so as “to have the thirst to keep killing.” Robinson remembers Daniela, a 16 or 17-year-old FARC member whom they “made love to,” then, when all the boys in the group were done, they killed and dismembered her. Robinson speaks of a pregnant woman they also murdered, that “caused me rage because she was killed unjustly. Many civilians had nothing to do with anything and they were killed.” Further, Robinson speaks of a massacre of eighty people, including forty children, in which “the blood flowed down the river.” Ay, ay, ay. Such brutal honesty from a teen. Such images for anyone to process.
Morris tends to report on paramilitary abuses and paramilitary collaborations with the army, and in the past, President Uribe has publicly called him a “terrorist.” It’s alleged that Uribe used his influence in Washington to block Morris’s visa. The U.S. Embassy in Colombia will not comment, citing Morris’s privacy, but the denial was likely a result of a provision of the Patriot Act that makes foreigners suspected of “terrorist activities” not allowed into the U.S. Ay, ay, ay, what of the First Amendment of the Constitution?