John I. Laun
Upon his election as Mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro named video journalist Hollman Morris to direct Bogota’s public television station, Canal Capital. Morris was an exceptional choice. He had for several years produced with other members of his family a series of programs, called “Contravia”, on rural Colombian communities affected by the ongoing war as told by their own people. He reported on the disturbing activities of paramilitary organizations, even filming the frightening entry of a well-armed paramilitary unit into a rural community, displaying for the public the agonizing terror inspired by the paramilitaries in community residents who reasonably feared for their lives. Hollman included the scene in a documentary he called “Impunity”, in which he showed clearly how paramilitary crimes go unpunished. We in Madison, Wisconsin, had the privilege of having Hollman present the film to a large crowd at the University of Wisconsin’s new Marquee Theater. We celebrate his courage in making a film which clearly shows the wrenching losses the paramilitaries have caused to noncombatants and the utter failure to bring to justice the murderers, torturers, those who “disappear” persons, and those who forcibly displace whole families.
Hollman also courageously accompanied members of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado in searching for the facts of how the massacre of 8 Community members, including a leader and founder of the Peace Community, Luis Eduardo Guerra, had been carried out. His reporting helped to establish that paramilitary forces in collaboration with troops from the Seventeenth and Eleventh Brigades of the Colombia Army were responsible for the massacre. Documenting the collaboration of government forces in committing unspeakable crimes against the civilian population is a service which Hollman has provided. This reporting and his coverage of the armed conflict in Colombia led Alvaro Uribe Velez, then President of Colombia, to declare that Hollman Morris was a “terrorist”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The support that Uribe Velez has given to cutthroat, illegal paramilitary forces throughout his political career, and the generalized corruption of the former President, explain his discomfiture with the revelations of Hollman’s reporting.
Fortunately, Hollman has received international commendation for his journalistic work. Harvard University awarded him a prestigious Nieman Fellowship and, when a public outcry against the United States government’s refusal to approve a visa to permit Hollman to come to this country to spend his Nieman year at Harvard caused the State Department to reverse the decision, we here in Madison and elsewhere in this country had the privilege of hearing from him and seeing his video reporting.
When Gustavo Petro won election as Mayor of Bogota two years ago, he named Hollman Morris to direct the municipal television station, Canal Capital. Here Hollman has done a brilliant job. In keeping with Mayor Petro’s determination to make Bogota a “more humane” city, Hollman has developed programming that highlights civic programs, exploring what is taking place in neighborhoods throughout this city of some 8 million people. He has given voice to popular groups, schoolchildren, artists, and intellectuals. One of the programs he has crafted in the public affairs area is a weekly program on human rights conducted by former Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzon and well-known Colombian attorney Pedro Medellin. A second weekly program is moderated by Maria Elvira Samper and Antonio Caballero, two tremendously competent journalists, who each week invite three guests to discuss and debate with them important current issues, such as the peace discussions underway between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas in Havana, Cuba. You can use your computer to access these informative programs at www.canalcapital.gov.co.
Now, with Colombia’s Procurador General, Alejandro Ordonez, having ordered Mayor Gustavo Petro’s firing, the question becomes whether Hollman Morris will be allowed to continue his superlative work as director of Canal Capital. For those of us who know Hollman and his work, it is impossible to imagine Colombia without his leadership at Canal Capital. We of course believe that Gustavo Petro should continue as Mayor, the post to which he was elected by more than 700,000 residents of Bogota. His leadership of the City, while in many respects controversial, has been honest and above-board. We know that the City needs Hollman Morris to continue his direction of Canal Capital, which has contributed greatly to the City becoming “mas humana” (“more humane”), as the station’s watchword proclaims, and much better informed. Colombians should above all rally in support of Hollman’s unparalleled promotion of a better city and a better country.