Indeed, the chief reason for my recent visit to Venezuela was down to being unable to renew my 'independent journalist' visa. (I am somewhat thankful to Colombia that it forced my hand and I was able to return to the 'brother country', despite all the pre-journey fears.)
|Is there an official Colombian clampdown on independent journalists? (Image from web.)|
While I wasn't actually denied the visa — the door is still open to get it — new requirements in relation to my journalist diploma made things much more awkward and time consuming than they had theretofore been.
Had it been my first visa request it wouldn't have been as disheartening a saga. "OK, these are the requirements and I have to follow them." However, I was going for my fifth, after which I would have been entitled to apply for residency, and that lasts for five years.
So considering the time and money I've invested here, that I'm now back at zero in terms of visa continuity is a little bit disappointing.
Now it must be said I'm not terribly down about it. I'd been considering my future here anyway, before the visa complications started. In some ways it's been positive. Since my return from Venezuela I've been focusing on work areas more 'down my street', or what I think I should be doing in any case.
It remains to be seen whether this new, um, 'Wrong Way' results in my immediate future still being here in Colombia or it means moving on to pastures new. The next few weeks will tell a tale.
Whatever the case, I'm relaxed. Things are happening.
Specifically in terms of the visa stumbling block, though, it never crossed my mind, not with any real belief anyway, that there were more, let's call them 'sinister forces' at work.
In fact, I still don't think there are.
However, it appears that a good number of foreigners in a similar position have had the same issue. So much so that the head of Colombia Reports is getting European diplomats and other international agencies to look into the matter.
Of course it is rather difficult to prove that there is a concerted effort from Colombia's La Cancillería — the department responsible for visas — to remove independent journalists from the country.
What's more, officialdom here is fully within its rights to change the visa requirements as it sees fit. From an Irish perspective for one, it's not like we have an open-door policy for the few Colombians who wish to make Ireland their home.
Personally, the idea that I was a 'target to take out' for La Cancillería is a little amusing, flattering even. As much as I'd like to think differently, this blog and the occasional other media groups I've collaborated with to write and talk about this country are unlikely to have caused much, if any, fuss amongst Colombia's powers that be.
For sure, there have been a few negative articles, but it's safe to assume they didn't set the alarm bells ringing. Hey it'd be great in a way if there was a 'Wrong Way Out' campaign. Alas, I haven't quite made it that 'big' yet.
This isn't to say that other journalists/reporters from here haven't been singled out. They may indeed have been. The most likely scenario, if there is something untoward at play, is that it's more of a general sweep, the idea being to cut down on these 'volatile' independent journalists/writers.
It will be interesting to see where Colombia Reports gets with its investigations in this regard. I'm guessing it will be a case of, 'Nothing to see here guys, move along.'
That being said, there are, unsurprisingly, some grey areas in the whole process.
Previously, so it went, with journalism being an unregulated profession no official qualifications had to be submitted with the application. It was all about proof of actual work.
Now however, as mentioned above, La Cancillería is demanding the translation and certification of the relevant qualifications — a long and relatively costly process.
This does beg the question for those going for an independent visa where they actually don't have a qualification to 'prove' their skills in what they're doing, what do they do?
For example, I have dabbled in a bit of acting, basic and ad hoc as it has been. So what if I were to apply for a visa as an actor? I don't have papers to say I'm one, I just discovered I'm good at it and there is a demand for my services in the country (relax, it's a hypothetical scenario!).
Plus of course, not all journalists, broadcasters or presenters have the qualifications in those specific fields. Some just fell into them by chance.
So you'd have to think there are allowances for such things.
Then again, in a country that tends be value the piece of paper over actual real-life ability, maybe not.
Perhaps they just want to let in those of a more academic disposition. Good at the theory — or as often happens in Colombia, with deep pockets — but not great in practice.
Talk the talk, but can't walk the walk. Good luck to them with that.
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