Opinion

Commentary: U.S. is acting Cuba-like in denying Neiman Fellow's visa

The U.S. decision to deny a visa to Colombian journalist Hollman Morris, who had been invited to spend an academic year at Harvard University, sounds like a page right out of the Cuba-North Korea-Iran playbook.

Freedom of the press groups have a name for this practice — ideological exclusion. It is the procedure whereby governments — most often dictatorships — cite alleged terrorist ties to deny entry visas to people who can spread inconvenient truths, or ideas that counter the official line.

Press freedom advocates say they know of about 250 cases of foreign journalists, academics, writers and artists who have been denied U.S. visas for ideological reasons in recent years.

Morris is a 41-year-old independent television journalist who has been one of the strongest critics of President Alvaro Uribe in recent years. In his independent TV show, he often interviews leftist victims of the Colombian government's human rights abuses. He has recently been selected as one of a dozen journalists from around the world to spend a year at a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard.

Morris says he has visited the United States more than 10 times before his five-year visa expired in May. In January, he had been invited to the U.S. ambassador's residence in Bogotá for a private luncheon with James Steinberg, the State Department's No. 2 official, Morris told me.

But when Morris went to the U.S. Consulate in Bogota in mid-June to renew his U.S. visa to go to Harvard, he was informed that his visa had been denied under the Patriot Act, which allows the government to bar anyone who "endorses or espouses terrorist activity."

Morris scoffs at the suggestion that he supports Colombia's Marxist guerrillas. He says he has been the victim of "a criminal hunt" by the government that has included "threats, stigmatization and arbitrary detentions" because of his work, which he describes as giving a public voice to those who are most often shunned by mainstream media.

"I am a democrat. I have not even been a member of the communist youth, or of any leftist political party," he told me. "My work is public, and it's in defense of victims of the barbaric acts by the army, the guerrillas and paramilitary forces."

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