Hollman Morris Rincón

My arrival as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard was preceded by years of threats, smear campaigns, and persecution of me, my colleagues and my family by the secret services that served former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

During his time in office, I was arbitrarily arrested twice and publicly accused by Uribe of being an ally of terrorism, a tag that in Colombia could be an incitement for murder.

Beginning in 2005, my family and I were surrounded by bodyguards and armored cars. Over time, we came to realize that the security personnel provided to us by the Colombian government (in fulfillment of a Human Rights Commission mandate) had been spying on us day and night.

My wife, my children and I were trapped between the security arranged by the government’s secret services and the irresponsible remarks made by Uribe. This had serious consequences for our family life. As an example, my son Felipe, who is now seven years old, didn't know what it was like leave the house without bodyguards until we arrived at Harvard.

A Fresh Start

I will never forget our first day in Cambridge during the summer of 2010. A big park in front of our house awaited my children. I remember looking out the window, watching Daniela, then nine, and Felipe, six, run free and happy in the yard. Like a butterfly, Danielita was playing freely and jumping like a ballet dancer, while Felipe ran on his skateboard, a dream that had been deferred because of the insecurity in which we lived in Colombia. My wife and I almost cried watching them that afternoon. It seemed to me that every lost minute of their life was being recovered.

It’s difficult to find words to describe everything that I owe to the Nieman Fellowship, the Nieman family; in a nutshell, we came back to life.

Of all the most important aspects of the fellowship, I want to emphasize, above all, is the value of solidarity. My arrival to Nieman was preceded by the suspension of my visa by the U. S. State Department. Harvard and the Nieman Foundation led a large global movement with other organizations to ask for my visa to enter the United States. My family and I received the support, the love, and the affection of many people around the world.

After a long and agonizing month, the State Department decided to issue our visa. Solidarity had triumphed and it lasted throughout the year at Nieman. We were proof that a strong democracy could not exclude people because of ideological reasons. Winning this battle was a relief to my family and me: With the visa denial and the usual threats that were made because of the accusations of former president Uribe, we were facing imminent danger at home.

The Nieman Year

The main challenge for me as a fellow was learning English. It has been a hard road but my arrival at Harvard was a step in this process, one that I have continued now from Washington. I have been improving, feeling closer to my goal every day.

During my time with the other fellows, I was able to broaden my horizons and learn about different problems that freedom of expression is facing today in other countries worldwide.

I had planned to apply to Harvard years before I came. My decision to attend was bolstered by close friends who supported and encouraged me. Basically, life gave me the signs I needed to take a break: the exhaustion, the pressure. Being accepted to Harvard was also a message to those who followed my work. On one hand, it was telling the world that my reporting was respected and had credibility. And on the other hand, it showed journalism students that profiling the weak and exposing barbarism through reporting had rewards, such as being chosen by the world’s most prestigious fellowship for journalists.

During my fellowship, I developed relationships that allowed me to build a network of contacts with different departments studying Latin America. Even today I am invited to give lectures or classes on Latin American social issues or human rights-focused journalism.

One of the happiest moments I had on campus was when I was able to present “Impunity”, my latest documentary. It was a great honor for me and led to an excellent discussion with students and teachers.

Space to Heal

The time I spent at Harvard allowed me to reunite with my family, find a lost calm and return to basic things that I had completely lost, such as walking quietly in the street, taking public transportation and not fearing being alone in public places. I also rediscovered pleasures such as listening to music and enjoying literature and art. The time at Harvard changed our lives for the better and enriched our spirits.

Harvard opened my eyes and mind to a large amount of new ideas and invited me to tackle new tasks and challenges. The university also helped me take a new look at Latin America, its potential and what remains to be done to better understand the continent and its people.

Studying Latino matters in the United States gave me a new perspective and I envision an interesting future: A challenge for Latinos in the United States will be building and strengthening reliable mass media and rediscovering Latin leaders who have made contributions to their countries. I think this will provide a great source of work for journalists and documentary filmmakers.

Of course, building a peaceful Colombia is still on my mind for the future. Also, the desire to return – so common in those like me who have left Colombia because of persecution – stays with me. My immediate dream: to live for some time in the United States, while the wounds continue to heal.

Hollman Morris Rincón
2011 Nieman Fellow