Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Organ Trafficking: Facts and Fiction, the case in Albania

Executive Summary:
  • Dick Marty’s report casts light on the dubious claims of Albanian organ trafficking during and after the Kosovo War
  • The report goes as far as to involve Mr Thaci and other members of the Kosovo leadership
  • Ethnic Albanians have signed petitions against the report while the Albanian government and the Kosovo leadership finally agreed to cooperate
  • As a first step the Council of Europe adopted Marty’s report but now probe, three months later, reached a stalemate
  • An independent, coordinated, and serious investigation, is more than urgent and support from all the Western democratic states is absolutely essential
1. Introduction

The issue of allegedly human rights violations committed by Kosovo Albanians during and after the Kosovo War is not really new.  What is new however, are the evidence thrown on the table at the Council of Europe last January.  Allegations have been aired for the past seven years but it was not until recently that some serious steps were made forward, deep into this case.  The issue was the key topic on the agenda of the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) winter plenary session (24-28 January 2011).  Nearly three years ago, Carla Del Ponte, former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), raised the issue when her highly controversial book The Hunt went public.  Del Ponte accused Kosovo Albanians of organ trafficking after illicitly removed from kidnapped Serbs after the 1999 Kosovo War.  But not well established accusations were brought before the ICTY. Until recently...

2. Council of Europe adopts Mr Marty’s Report
Swiss Senator Mr Dick Marty, the Head of the PACE Commission on Judicial Issues, was asked to conduct and present a report to the Council of Europe[1].  Albanians and Kosovo Albanians tried so far to keep the issue buried but now they are facing substantial evidence.  The Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, dismissed the claims in Del Ponte’s book, calling it just fiction.  On the same grounds, Ina Rama, Albania’s General Prosecutor, said at the time that the allegations were too vague to investigate.  Up to now the EULEX –the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo did not bring any significant results.  International investigations, by war crimes investigators from Serbia, the EU, and the Council of Europe, have failed to uncover any evidence that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was involved in organ trafficking.  The failure to find either the original sources or any new evidence since 2004 may mean that the story was unfounded.

However, Mr Marty argues that the reason was that all these efforts were not well synchronised and the international investigators were not backed by the Albanian and Kosovo Albanian authorities.  So far, only Serbia cooperated in finding the fate of the roughly 1,900 people (Serbs, Roma, and Ethnic Albanians) who remain missing from the Kosovo War, although without any significant results.  It has been incredibly complicated to carry out excavations in Kosovo, and impossible on Albanian territory, because there was not sufficient cooperation among the international agencies, Kosovo Albanians, and Albanian authorities.  But after the publication of Dick Marty’s report last December, the Legal Affairs Committee of the PACE has called for a series of national and international investigations into evidence of disappearances, organ trafficking, corruption, and collusion between organised criminal groups and political circles in Kosovo[2].  The Committee called on the EU and other contributing states, including Serbian, Albanian, and the Kosovo authorities, to provide EULEX with the necessary resources and political support.  The Council of Europe adopted Marty’s report, without substantial changes[3], and approved a resolution calling on Albanian and Kosovo authorities to investigate organ-trafficking allegations (169 votes in favour, 8 against, and 14 abstentious)[4].

3. Strong allegations coming forward
According to the report, a result of a two-year investigation effort, Kosovo Albanian guerrillas under the KLA have allegedly committed grave human rights violations, detaining, beating, and abusing within Albanian territory both Serbs and Albanians that were helping them, during and after the Kosovo War.  The Albanian authorities never helped and never cooperated with EULEX investigators.  The justification they used for not helping in finding the fate of those people was that their territory had not been affected by the conflict.  For example, after months of indifference on the matter, the Albanian government replied to a request for international legal assistance concerning the Kukës camp by saying that natural disaster caused the delays[5].  It is this particular Kukës case that proves how manifestly untrue is the claim that Albanian territory was not affected by the war.  Dick Marty, in his report claims that he has substantial evidence that there was not just one facility in Albania at which this post-conflict form of secrete detention took place.  There was a whole ad hoc network of such facilities, joined up by frequent journeys between them on Albania’s provincial roads, and across the porous, chaotic (especially at the time of the mass refugee movements in mid- 1999) border between Kosovo and Albania[6].  Namely the detentions were Cahan, Kukës filled with Albanian ‘traitors’, and Rripe aka ‘Yellow House’, or ‘K House’ where mostly Serbs were detained.  The captives were supposed to have moved through these facilities (in the areas of Bicaj, Burrel, Rripe, and Fushë-Krujë) before transferred to clinics where on the light of recent findings they had their organs removed against their will.  In particular, it was in the Fushë-Krujë facility that they ended up to be murdered.

4. Is Mr Thaci involved?
On top of this, the current leader of Kosovo, Mr Hashim Thaci is accused to have been involved.  In his report, Mr Marty illustrates how the “Drenica Group” which was ruled by Mr Thaci, wrested control of most of the illicit criminal enterprises in which Kosovo Albanians were involved in Albania, beginning at the latest in 1998.  According to purportedly well-substantiated intelligence reports, this Group built a formidable power in the organised criminal enterprises in Kosovo and Albania.  Mr Marty goes as far as to note that at least five countries have named Mr Hashim Thaci and other members of the Group, as having exerted violent control over the heroin and other narcotics trade and various intelligence services identified him as the most dangerous of the KLA’s “criminal bosses”[7].  Mr Marty specifically points out, that first-hand sources alone have credibly implicated that Mr Thaci and other members of his inner circle, ordered -and in some cases personally overseen- assassinations, detentions, beatings, and interrogations in various parts of Kosovo and in the context of KLA-led operations on Albanian territory between 1998 and 2000.  But there seem to be two principle impediments to the quest for justice as he suggests: A. the de facto reach of the investigations is carefully managed and restricted from the authorities, and Kosovo’s people collaboration with EULEX suffers from lack of confidence.  B. these men would apparently rather accept justice in the courts for their alleged roles in the detention camps and the organ trafficking, than implicate their former senior KLA commanders, upon whose authority they acted and who are now senior political figures. Similarly, the structure of the Albanian society, where there is a clear absence of a true civil society, has made it extremely difficult to set up contacts with local sources for the research Marty was conducting for the report.  This fear has accumulated “often to the point of genuine terror”[8].  Moreover, the Council of Europe alleges that the organ trafficking ring was set up by the current top advisor to Thaci, Shaip Muja who was chief medical officer in the KLA at the time.  Kosovo Albanian leader Mr Thaci admitted that war crimes had been committed after the war , but said the culprits were “pretending they belonged to the KLA” by wearing its uniform[9].

Albanians protested against the report but the accusations this time are much more specific and the evidence that Mr Marty obtained -if eventually proven- is just too serious to be ignored.  Pressure is growing on the Senator to back up his allegations.  Some 6000 ethnic Albanians in Serbia have signed a petition to add up to the signatures collected from Albanians in Kosovo and the Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, against the claims that Hashim Thaci was involved in organ trafficking, assassinations, and drugs.  The signing of the petition was organised by former figures of the Liberation Army of Presevo, (a municipality in Serbia at the border with the Kosovo region), Medvedja and Bujanovac, which in late 2000 clashed briefly with Serbian security forces[10].  As expected, Kosovo’s leadership has denied the claims but were forced under the circumstances to agree that a probe should be launched.  Ethnic Albanians accuse Marty that he is taking the Serbian side equalising the victims and the criminals. The organisers of the petitions in Albania, Serbia, Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, and of course in Kosovo were convinced that collecting a large number of signatures would stop the PACE from adopting Marty’s report.  However, this was proven to be a castle in the air and as it turned out the Council could not but just accept the report and pressure for further investigation.  The petition would also be sent to the European Court of Human Rights[11].

5. There should not be double standards
In a war like this, crimes are committed from both sides.  As Marty states “whenever a conflict has occurred, all criminals must be prosecuted and held responsible for illegal acts, whichever side they belonged to and irrespectively of the political role they took on”[12].  The fact that Albanians were the victims of the genocide performed by the Milosevic regime, by no means implies immunity, especially in such atrocious criminal acts which have nothing to do with their resistance to the Serbian forces. PM Sali Berisha after the pressure imposed by the report is also now welcoming EULEX to extend probes in Albanian territory, and promises cooperation[13].  At the same time, Ina Rama, Albanian General Prosecutor, makes a shift to her yearlong policy against the investigations also offering cooperation[14].

Obviously, this is a very difficult case that puts Western leaders in an awkward position since NATO cooperated closely with the KLA during the Kosovo War. In addition, the accusations targeting a high level official such as Thaci is not particularly making it any easier as Georgy Engelgardt, fellow at the Institute of Slavic Studies, observes[15].  Human Rights Watch calls years now for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to examine the case and an effective witness protection programme to be established.  The organisation has insisted on a high-level political backing of the US and the EU[16] which we have not seen so far.  It is a very positive step that the Council of Europe adopted Marty’s report, praising the Senator for his courage as well as his “excellent and difficult” work[17].  The move comes amid the emergence of NATO intelligence reports showing Western powers have long suspected Thaci’s post-war administration of having criminal ties[18].  However, EULEX appears reluctant to initiate an investigation into Dick Marty’s allegations until they get specific evidence although they claimed they did right after the adoption of the report by PACE[19].  The Council urged EULEX to be involved in the investigations, and the Mission should definitely cooperate and should highly consider that there is no effective witness protection programme when asking Marty to provide the necessary evidence.  After all, as the legal expert for the Balkans and professor at the University of Graz in Austria, Joseph Marko, put it “EULEX is not a court; therefore the collected material must be passed on to a court”[20]. However, three months after the adoption of the report by PACE EULEX refuses to cooperate repeating that no hard evidence is provided by Mr Marty[21].

6. Where is the West?
Obviously the probe reached a stalemate again and no one seems willing to cooperate. Serbia sent a proposal on the 19th[22]. Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, is backed by his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, who officially visited Belgrade just before the proposal was sent. Russia is there, where is the West? Too many are at stake... But all war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia have been investigated under a UN Security Council mandate, so there should not be double standards on this case. of April to the UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon asking for an independent investigation.

There is no question that Albanians and Kosovo Albanians may feel uncomfortable with these developments; but as it is essential to find the truth concerning the fate of missing Albanians, victims of the Milosevic ethnic cleansing policy, it is equally critical to examine if KLA committed the aforementioned crimes.  Obstructing the path to justice only provokes further suspicion to whoever is following the case.  It is extremely important Western states to pressure to this direction since any delayed response to these requests is incomprehensible and intolerable in view of the urgency to deal with such a serious crime issue.  Concluding, fiction or facts, if there is any suspicion of such crimes, and there is indeed much more than suspicion, there is only one way to find out; coordinated and serious investigations.

Birca Mircea, “Serbia Has Sent a Proposal for Kosovo Organ Trafficking Investigation to UN”, Eurasia Press & News, April 20, 2011,

Collaku Petrit, “Probe Stalls Into Marty Report Claims on Kosovo”, Balkan Insight, April 28, 2011,

“Council Adopts Dick Marty’s Kosovo Report”, Swiss, January 25, 2011,

“Council of Europe Adopts Marty’s Report”, New Kosova Report, January 25, 2011

“Council of Europe Endorses Kosovo Organs Report”, EU business, January 25, 2011,

“EULEX Launches First Investigations”, New Kosova Report, January 26, 2011,

“Joseph Marco: Thaci Could be Accused”, New Kosova Report, January 27, 2011,

“KLA Veterans Launch Petition Against Organ Trade Report”, Balkan Insight, January 10, 2011,

“Kosovo/ Albania: Investigate Alleged KLA Crimes”, Human Rights Watch, UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, December 15, 2010,,,,,ALB,,4d0b1878c,0.html

Lazic Nikola, “Thousands in South Serbia Sign Petition Against Organ Trade Report”, Balkan Insight, January 17, 2011,

Likmeta Besar, “Albania PM Calls for Organ Harvesting Probe”, Balkan Insight, December 23, 2010,

Likmeta Besar, “EULEX, Albania to Cooperate in Organ Trade Probe”, Balkan Insight, January 18, 2011,

Marty Dick, “Inhuman Treatment of People and Illicit Trafficking in Human Organs in Kosovo”, Report on Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, December 12, 2010

“PACE Committee Demands Investigations into Organ-Trafficking and Disappearances in Kosovo and Albania”, Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, December 16, 2010

Solovyov, Vyacheslav, “PACE Winter Session Expected to be Emotional”, The Voice of Russia, January 24, 2011,

“Uncovering Albania’s Role in the Kosovo War”, BBC news, May 17, 2010,


[1] Marty Dick, “Inhuman Treatment of People and Illicit Trafficking in Human Organs in Kosovo”, Report on Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, December 12, 2010
[2] “PACE Committee Demands Investigations into Organ-Trafficking and Disappearances in Kosovo and Albania”, Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, December 16, 2010
[3] “Council of Europe Adopts Marty’s Report”, New Kosova Report, January 25, 2011
[4] “Council Adopts Dick Marty’s Kosovo Report”, Swiss, January 25, 2011,
[5] Marty (2011), p. 9
[6] Ibid, p. 22
[7] These were the German BND, the Italian Sismi, the British MI6 and the Greek EYP intelligence services, see Ibid, p. 15
[8] Ibid, p.6
[9] “Uncovering Albania’s Role in the Kosovo War”, BBC news, May 17, 2010,
[10] Lazic Nikola, “Thousands in South Serbia Sign Petition Against Organ Trade Report”, Balkan Insight, January 17, 2011,
[11] “KLA Veterans Launch Petition Against Organ Trade Report”, Balkan Insight, January 10, 2011,
[12] Marty (2010), p. 2
[13] Likmeta Besar, “Albania PM Calls for Organ Harvesting Probe”, Balkan Insight, December 23, 2010,
[14] Likmeta Besar, “EULEX, Albania to Cooperate in Organ Trade Probe”, Balkan Insight, January 18, 2011,
[15] Solovyov, Vyacheslav, “PACE Winter Session Expected to be Emotional”, The Voice of Russia, January 24, 2011,
[16] “Kosovo/ Albania: Investigate Alleged KLA Crimes”, Human Rights Watch, UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, December 15, 2010,,,,,ALB,,4d0b1878c,0.html
[17] “Council Adopts Dick Marty’s Kosovo Report”, Ibid
[18] “Council of Europe Endorses Kosovo Organs Report”, EU business, January 25, 2011,
[19] “EULEX Launches First Investigations”, New Kosova Report, January 26, 2011,
[20] “Joseph Marco: Thaci Could be Accused”, New Kosova Report, January 27, 2011,
[21] Collaku Petrit, “Probe Stalls Into Marty Report Claims on Kosovo”, Balkan Insight, April 28, 2011,
[22] Birca Mircea, “Serbia Has Sent a Proposal for Kosovo Organ Trafficking Investigation to UN”, Eurasia Press & News, April 20, 2011,

by Madalena Papadopoulou
Orginally published by Strategy International

God Bless America - Why tiresome speech ending won't die out

In a week of celebration in America, President Obama has seemingly placed extra emphasis on the inevitable, and inevitably infuriating, phrase he uses to end his political speeches: God Bless America. For those of us who have grown up hearing these words close many a presidential address, it is worth remembering that it has not always been this way.
The popularisation of the trite little phrase dates back to Irving Berlin’s 1918 song of the same name, which might conceivably have replaced “The Star Spangled Banner” as the country’s national anthem were it not for southern conservative opposition to Berlin’s Jewish identity. However, the expression did not pass a president’s lips until 1973 when the repulsive President Nixon uttered the words amidst the collapsing scenery of his administration at the time of the Watergate scandal. Having failed to catch on straight away (neither Gerald Ford nor the ultra-religious Jimmy Carter used the phrase), God Bless America was resurrected by Ronal Regan in 1980 and has remained as the speech ending of choice for American presidents ever since.  According to David Domke and Kevin Koe’s book, The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America, Regan and George Bush used the phrase in 90% of their political speeches, whilst Clinton and George W Bush followed suit 89% and 84% of the time respectively.  Yet there is something about the current president – perhaps the fact that the words are so often preceded by seemingly thoughtful prose – that makes the tact on cliché such an irritating closing sentence.

James Fallows has argued that God Bless America is the political equivalent of ‘Have a nice day’ - an irksome, though harmless expression that has ended many a transaction across the country. Yet there is surely something more mindless, not to say ironic, about declaring God Bless America, particularly when it is used in the wake of an event that has so clearly not gone well for the U.S. (As the novelist John Updike remarked following the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, ‘God might have withdrawn His blessing from America’). Nowhere was this truer than on September 14, 2001 when George W. Bush, standing on the still burning rubble of the collapsed towers, ended his short, though rousing speech, with the words God Bless America. Few in the crowd that day seemed to catch the irony of that. After all, had not the 18 hijackers been thoroughly convinced that God was blessing their work? If one truly believes that God takes an interest in these kind of things, then surely the destruction around the President that day would have suggested that the hijackers had a far greater chance of being right!

Yet, in God fearing America, the expression is unlikely to die out anytime soon. As a way of assuring the press and public that the speaker is a person of ‘faith’, no better phrase has yet been invented. It is also an incredibly easy and reliable way for speech writers to wrap up a day’s work, safe in the knowledge that they have a closing line ready to launch the audience into chants and applause. Perhaps someday an American president will have the courage to drop the tired cliché and finish on something poignant or profound. But until that day, God will no doubt go on blessing America.

by Matt Jones

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Foreign Ministers, Stones, and Glass Houses

Abul Ati al-Obeidi has warned that the UK’s plan to send military advisors to assist Libyan rebels will prolong the search for peace.  Is he for real?

War: a continuation of politics by other means; a phenomenon that takes place once more diplomatic routes to conflict resolution between two adversaries are perceived to be exhausted.  In the end, it comes down to the enforcement of ones will upon another.  But crucially, this projection of will must be embedded within the condition of peace. 
Peace: the elusive condition of being that often proves so distant within hot-war environments; a condition which is reliant on the most specific of factors aligning, so as to achieve balance at a particular moment in time and the acceptance of one adversary’s will by the other (albeit sometimes more than begrudgingly).
All sounds rather migraine-inducing, doesn’t it?  Or perhaps not if your name is Mr Obeidi.  If Libya’s foreign minister is to be believed, the first step toward peace would involve keeping British (and more generally, foreign) forces off the ground in this troubled part of North Africa, for their presence will prolong the conflict and lessen the chances of an amicable resolution.  Or so he says. 
He’s wrong.  Firstly, logistical and intelligence training is a far cry from combat forces, so let’s not get the two confused.  And secondly, the 10 or so British officers pencilled in for deployment will provide only the smallest pinch of tactical respite for Libya’s rebels; a contingent that needs all the help it can get whilst up against the war machine of a state.
So, thank you for your advice Mr Obeidi, but here is mine to you: massacring thousands of your own citizens isn’t the best way to bring about peace, either.  If Mr Obeidi wants to throw stones, perhaps he should move from a house of glass to one slightly more robust, say, reinforced by the practice of human rights, liberty and democracy.

By Dane Vallejo
Originally posted by The Henry Jackson Society

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Made in America: why the US should protect its own

America’s status as the world’s superpower was established in no small part from the strength and talent of our men and women in uniform. However, this cannot simply be attributed to exceptional training; we would be amiss if we failed to recognize the American companies who develop and build the equipment that our men and women use every day to ensure our national security. American ingenuity has kept us at the forefront of military technology that helps keep our soldiers safe. It is not only key to our military strength, but also to the strength of our economy.

Unfortunately, a troubling trend has made it way into the industry. In the name of a “free market” and “fair competition,” foreign companies have begun winning defense contracts at the peril of American companies. The competition is by no means “fair,” and all that is “free” is the free-ride foreign companies are getting when they receive subsidies from their governments. Because foreign companies receive money from the government, they are able to offer artificially low prices when they bid for contracts against American companies, who do not receive government aid.

We are seeing this played out right now, as Kansas-based Hawker Beechcraft competes for an Air Force contract against the Brazilian company Embrear. Embraer publically acknowledges that it receives assistance from the Brazilian government. And this is not an isolated incident – just a few weeks ago Boeing was awarded a similar contract over EADS, it’s European counterpart, but only after a controversial prolonged fight where Boeing had to overcome EADS’ unfair advantage due to government subsidies.

As our country continues to struggle to bounce back from recession, we need to ask ourselves: Should our defense spending be used to protect 1,400 American jobs, or should we allow a foreign company to produce planes in Brazil, ship the parts to the U.S., assemble them in Florida, and stamp them  “Made in America?”

Congress and the Pentagon need to know that Americans are not okay with outsourcing our military manufacturing or our national security.  The idea of supporting a company whose government has provided no assistance or support to the U.S. in fighting terrorism around the globe? The answer seems pretty clear. Support keeping America strong, and tell Washington to stop outsourcing our jobs and security.

Guest Blog by Emily McGann

Sunday, 10 April 2011

New Blog: Dane Vallejo

Military Matters readers,

Please check out Dane Vallejo's new blog.  It is pretty similar to Military Matters as things stand...but it will be going down a new track eventually, so watch this (or that) space!

Topics will vary but will be principally focused on foreign policy vis-á-vis Latin America, Counterinsurgency, and energy geopolitics.

I hope you continue to enjoy both blogs!


Friday, 8 April 2011

Reid and Obama struggle to keep Boehner down

Over 800,000 American federal employees have gone to work this morning, not knowing whether they will be expected to come in on Monday. Congressmen from both sides of the political divide worked through the night last night in an attempt to foster agreement over a the $3.5trillion federal budget. They remain half a percentage point apart. In other words about $5bn. With the budget in the balance, funding for a number of federal programs will effectively be frozen until agreement is reached.

As if the hundreds of thousands without wages and canceled tourist activities don’t sound bad enough, organisers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival have announced the annual gala parade would be canceled should lawmakers fail to reach agreement. But seriously, the failure of lawmakers to reach agreement through compromise reflects badly on the system, threatens domestic political fallout and may damage the international prestige of the United States. Come on guys you’re the world’s only superpower. What happens if you shutdown?

The polarized politics of recent years is finally coming to a head as (Republican) House Speaker Boehner, and (Democrat) Senate Majority Leader Reid continue to struggle over specific ‘riders’, including funding cuts to Planned Parenthood abortion clinics and environmental red-tape. At present  both sides seem to be spending more time blaming each other than actively pursuing agreement. Hesitant to blink first, they have argued that any concessions given up over the budget may set a dangerous precedent for future negotiations, which are expected to become increasingly testing. With the government only hours away from shutting down, it's time for lawmakers to step up to the plate and pass this test of political will.

by David Fairhurst

Originally posted by The Henry Jackson Society

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Gonna Change Their Way of Thinking?

Agnes Repplier once said, “Humour brings insight and tolerance.  Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding”.  She wasn’t wrong.  In the same week that Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei was jailed, age-old protester, Bob Dylan stormed through his first ever gig in the Middle Kingdom: how’s that for irony?
Ai is widely recognised as China’s most famous contemporary artist and can (or at least could before his disappearance into custody) often be found levelling criticism of the state at the powers that be in Beijing; a well-documented void when it comes to human rights.
If the foreign ministry is to be believed, the investigation of Ai is regarding “economic crimes” and has “nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression”.  A spokesman for the ministry added that "China is a country ruled by law and will act according to law” (that’s your irony quota filled for the day); perhaps Beijing could elaborate on its highly selective rule of law model?
As for Dylan, his gig played out free of controversy to the relief of some 2,000 agents of the Chinese Communist Party present.  He stuck to the predetermined set-list, avoided some of his more controversial numbers and kept chit-chat with the audience to a minimum.  That’s not to say he “bottled it”; his gigs are often carried out in this light these days.  But he evidently thought better of pulling “a Bjork” and avoided the precedent set by the screwball Icelandic pop icon who wound up earning a two-year ban on foreign acts after her mini on-stage Tibet protest in 2008.
Perhaps Dylan was simply sharper.  After all, if the West’s soft power is to be used as part of a strategy to change China’s way of thinking, Western acts are going to need a stage to play on.  Better to get the message across quietly than to not get it across at all. 

by Dane Vallejo

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Does April Fools' Fall Early in Latin America?

There is a grave absence of logic at the heart of the decision to award Hugo Chávez the Rodolfo Walsh award for commitment to liberty, human rights and democratic values.  It is, in fact, an incongruous sham.

n. pl. hy·poc·ri·sies

1. The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.
2. An act or instance of such falseness.

Bare the above in mind, now consider that Hugo Chávez has been awarded the Rodolfo Walsh award by Argentina’s University of La Plata for "his commitment to defending the liberty of the people” and “defending human rights, truth and democratic values".  You would be forgiven for thinking that April Fools’ has arrived early this year, but this is simply a case of dumbfounding hypocrisy, for there is a serious absence of logic at the heart of this disgraceful ceremony.  Forgive me for being so frank, but celebrating Chávez in this regard is not so different from celebrating Fidel Castro for his contribution to the free market.  It is an incongruous sham.
To be sure, the narrative of development in Venezuela’s media sector over the past 12 years is more than instructive.  Through means of legislative reform and revision (which, by itself has been made possible due to Chávez’s ever increasing grip on Venezuela’s political institutions), Chávez has silenced large swaths of the media, exclusively those deemed contrary to his own Socialist mission. 
The Media Content Law of December 2004, for example, was passed by Chávez to devastating effect by making the dissemination of information deemed “contrary to national security” (a benchmark left totally at the discretion of the state) punishable by heavy fines or even the loss of ones broadcasting licence.  Unsatisfied, the regime pushed ahead to extend this law to the internet communications sector some six years later in December 2010.
More asphyxiating still, a new penal code was introduced in March 2005 which criminalised the articulation and publication of opinion that the state deemed to be “offensive”.  Article 147, for example, dictates that any individual found guilty of disrespecting Chávez or the Chávistas who carry out his work can be imprisoned for up to 30 months.  Article 297a dictates that causing panic or anxiety through inaccurate reporting is punishable by the same sentence.[i]  More to the point, the implementation of these laws have been far from idle exercises.  Leading up to the September 2010 parliamentary election, for instance, Chávez used Article 297a to ban newspapers from publishing violent or traumatic images so as to avoid rampant crime from becoming a key electoral issue; an issue that Chávez was no doubt aware would count against his party seeing as crime has quadrupled since he came to power in 1999. 
A further stipulation to the penal code dictates that should an individual reporting “offensive” material be backed by foreign funding and thought to be conspiring against the President, then the sentence could be anything up to 30 years.[ii]  30 years.  If one believes that to be “defending human rights” and the “liberty of the people”, just ask Carlos Correa, a human rights defender and director of the Venezuelan organisation Espacio Público, for his opinion on the matter.   Correa and his organisation have been hounded by Chávez and his regime after committing the somewhat less than heinous crime of taking donations from the US and are consequently under criminal investigation as well as subject to a demoralising state-media harassment campaign.[iii]
In the mainstream media, RCTV, Globovision and Caracas radio station CNB 102.3 are some of the bigger names that have felled victim to Chávez in one sense or another for failing to form a neat formation behind his socialist agenda.  But there are many more; the radio-waves alone have been scathed with some 40 percent of licences revoked – a staggering 240 stations.  Meanwhile, TV executives have been dubbed “white collar terrorists” by Chávez for daring to step across the aisle and diverge from his exuberance for the socialist revolution. 
And what has replaced these broadcasters?  Silence?  Think again.  Chávez has been industrious in expanding his own information empire, now controlling 2 national radio networks, six television channels, 72 regional television stations and 600 radio stations,[iv] providing him with an effective information infrastructure through which he can manipulate political discourse.  He tires even his keenest constituents with an eight hour radio and television slot, Aló Presidente, each Sunday which has been the typical platform for some of his most infamous political theatrics.  For those who care not to watch or listen, hard luck; Suddenly with Chávez was launched in 2010 allowing Chávez 24 hour access to the radio-waves, unannounced.  As the title quite brilliantly signifies, the programme has no schedule time and can be broadcast at midnight, the break of dawn and anywhere between at Chávez’s discretion, often interrupting popular broadcasts such as baseball games so as to maximise his audience.  One can almost imagine Chávez crashing through the television sets of millions of unsuspecting Venezuelans as their sporting idol is poised to hit a game winning home-run.
In sum, and to return to a serious note, Chávez is no such defender of “democratic values”.  He is in fact the polar opposite, waging a war against a core of democratic principles including private property and democratic representation in addition to free information.  This dictator (forget his democratic rise, he is what he has become), has quite simply endeavoured to brand political dissidence a crime thus curtailing the freedoms of information, speech and association through an incessant media offensive.  It is nothing short of dictatorial control and desperate repression of political discourse and debate; an overarching media strategy designed to suppress opposition and retain and consolidate power.
The award of this honour to Hugo Chávez is therefore hypocrisy of the highest order.  While those of us in London, Washington or any other democratic outpost are able to stand, stare and scratch our heads in disbelief, Venezuelans are subject to this sickening suffocation on a daily basis.  The uprisings across the Middle East look unlikely to extend across the Atlantic Ocean in the near future, but if Chávez’s chokehold increases in pressure applied, similar uprisings will surely reach Venezuela given time.

by Dane Vallejo

[i] Jackson Diehl, ‘Chavez’s Censorship – Where ‘Disrespect Can Land You in Jail’, The Washington Post, March 28 2005, at
[ii] Jackson Diehl, ‘Chavez’s Censorship – Where ‘Disrespect Can Land You in Jail’, The Washington Post, March 28 2005, at
[iii] ‘Open Letter: Carlos Correa, director of the Venezuelan NGO ‘Espacio Público’: harassment campaign against him’, Protect Online, August 19 2010, at

This article was originally published by The Henry Jackon Society, 31/03/11, accessed