Tuesday, January 17, 2006

American Big-Game Hunters Support Zimbabwe’s Brutal, Robert Mugabe Dictatorship.

This is just disgusting. I mean, I’ve seen a lot, and I know that there's much evil in the world, but this is up there. A quick summation: scummy people connected to the brutal dictator Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Popular Front (ZANU-PF) buy up bush land at rigged auctions and then invite rich Americans to murder endangered animals such as lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and black rhino. These people are so corrupt that even the US government (which rarely intervenes in the affairs of rich people scams) has had a say. The article is below but I took out a few paragraphs to give you a quick idea. They follow:

“She also knows how to use her power. About three years ago, Chiwenga [The wife of Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, commander-in-chief of Zimbabwe’s army – the same army who did forced evacuations of the poor] won an auction for a coveted lease on a 220-square-mile tract of bush, owned by Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Authority, located just outside Hwange National Park in southwest Zimbabwe. Abounding in the Big Five—lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and black rhino—Chiwenga’s property has since become a choice destination for professional hunters, particularly well-heeled Americans.

Now, Chiwenga’s business ambitions—as well as her political clout—have brought her to the attention of the U.S. government. Last November, the Treasury Department added Chiwenga, 50, to a list of 128 Mugabe relatives and cronies who are “undermining democratic processes or institutions in Zimbabwe.” The Treasury Department has blocked the assets of those on the list and established penalties of up to $250,000 and 10 years’ imprisonment for anyone who does business with them. And that executive order has put dozens, if not hundreds, of Americans who hunt on her land in legal jeopardy.

Chiwenga’s sanctioning by the U.S. government has drawn new attention to the unsavory, and usually hidden, links between American sportsmen and the Mugabe dictatorship. During the past six years, Zimbabwe’s economy has been in free fall, with the country’s gross domestic product dropping by half and agricultural production sinking by more than 80 percent. But hunting has remained one of the country’s few thriving industries, bringing in as much as $30 million annually, according to conservationists and professional hunters in Zimbabwe. Much of that cash has gone into the coffers of ZANU-PF insiders, who have gained control of government-owned safari land at below market prices, reportedly through rigged auctions in many cases.”

Full article:

Shoot to Kill

Inside the hidden links between American big-game hunters

and Zimbabwe’s Mugabe dictatorship.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10841107/site/newsweek/

WEB EXCLUSIVE

By Joshua Hammer

Newsweek

Updated: 5:58 p.m. ET Jan. 13, 2006

Jan. 13, 2006 - Jocelyn Chiwenga is not a woman to be taken lightly. The wife of Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, commander-in-chief of Zimbabwe’s army, Mrs. Chiwenga has earned a reputation in her own right as a vicious enforcer for President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Popular Front (ZANU-PF). In April 2002 she reportedly showed up at a farm outside Harare, the capital, with an armed gang and ordered the farm’s white owner to turn over his property to her or be killed, according to documents filed in a Zimbabwean court. One year later, Chiwenga accosted Gugulethu Moyo, an attorney for a pro-opposition newspaper, and beat her so severely that she had to seek medical attention. “Your paper wants to encourage anarchy in this country,” Chiwenga reportedly shouted as she punched and slapped the 28-year-old lawyer on a Harare street. “Chiwenga is as close to the center of power as you get,” says David Coltart, a parliamentarian and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, the country’s main opposition party.

She also knows how to use her power. About three years ago, Chiwenga won an auction for a coveted lease on a 220-square-mile tract of bush, owned by Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Authority, located just outside Hwange National Park in southwest Zimbabwe. Abounding in the Big Five—lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and black rhino—Chiwenga’s property has since become a choice destination for professional hunters, particularly well-heeled Americans.

Now, Chiwenga’s business ambitions—as well as her political clout—have brought her to the attention of the U.S. government. Last November, the Treasury Department added Chiwenga, 50, to a list of 128 Mugabe relatives and cronies who are “undermining democratic processes or institutions in Zimbabwe.” The Treasury Department has blocked the assets of those on the list and established penalties of up to $250,000 and 10 years’ imprisonment for anyone who does business with them. And that executive order has put dozens, if not hundreds, of Americans who hunt on her land in legal jeopardy.

Chiwenga’s sanctioning by the U.S. government has drawn new attention to the unsavory, and usually hidden, links between American sportsmen and the Mugabe dictatorship. During the past six years, Zimbabwe’s economy has been in free fall, with the country’s gross domestic product dropping by half and agricultural production sinking by more than 80 percent. But hunting has remained one of the country’s few thriving industries, bringing in as much as $30 million annually, according to conservationists and professional hunters in Zimbabwe. Much of that cash has gone into the coffers of ZANU-PF insiders, who have gained control of government-owned safari land at below market prices, reportedly through rigged auctions in many cases. One of Chiwenga’s neighbors in the Victoria Falls area is Webster Shamu, Mugabe’s Minister of Policy Implementation, and a key architect of Operation Murambatsvina—“Clean out the Rubbish”—the brutal slum clearance program that has left some 700,000 poor black Zimbabweans homeless. (Shamu is among the original 77 insiders who had their assets frozen and were barred from entering the United States by the Treasury Department in 2003). Another big player is Jacob Mudenda, the former governor of Matabeleland North. All of them do a brisk business catering to professional American hunters, who make up about half of the clientele, according to industry insiders.

The Mugabe cronies-turned-safari operators are usually careful to conceal their direct involvement in the hunting business. Joyce Chiwenga, for example, seems to work through a network of agents that markets safaris heavily in the United States but never reveal the name of the property’s primary lease holder. Among them: Rob and Barry Style, owners of Buffalo Range Safaris, based in Harare. The Style brothers are regular participants at the Annual Hunters’ Convention scheduled for next week in Reno, Nevada,—a three-day marketing extravaganza sponsored by Safari Club International, America’s largest hunting club—and at other venues where American hunters congregate. Although Rob Style denied in an e-mail to NEWSWEEK that he had a business relationship with Chiwenga, several professional hunters in Zimbabwe insist that the brothers have frequently taken clients to shoot animals on her property. The Hunting Guide, an industry newsletter published in the United States, also names Buffalo Range Safaris as a hunting-safari operator on Chiwenga-owned land. Asked whether Safari Club International was concerned about the prospect of facilitating commercial links between American hunters and a sanctioned Zimbabwean figure, David Nagore, an SCI spokesman, says “On the advice of counsel, SCI has no comment on the matter.”

American hunters are also flocking to private-game reserves that were seized without compensation, and sometimes with violence, from white farmers and ranchers as part of Mugbe’s radical land-reform program, which reached a peak in 2002. That property is now mostly in the hands of ZANU-PF activists and Zimbabwe independence war veterans—considered to be among Mugabe’s most diehard supporters. While hunting on these properties doesn't violate U.S. sanctions, human-rights activists and political opposition figures in Zimbabwe say that it is morally objectionable and helps to give legitimacy to a repressive regime. In addition, it is on these ranches, Zimbabwe conservationists charge, that some of the worst abuses of the country’s environment are taking place—abuses that could threaten the survival of Zimbabwe’s rich wildlife, especially the endangered black rhino. Many of the land owners who took this property by force have no experience in wildlife conservation: they reportedly ignore strict hunting quotas established by the Wildlife Authority on prized species such as lion and leopard. They also allegedly kill animals, including rhino, inside protected wildlife areas such as Hwange National Park, one of southern Africa’s most renowned game reserves. “Poaching is rife,” says Johnny Rodrigues, the head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, a private activist group. “There’s no law and order here.”

Sorting through the thicket of charges and countercharges can be difficult. Larry Cumming, a white rancher, purchased Woodland Estates near Victoria Falls more than 30 years ago and developed it into one of the country’s best hunting and safari reserves. “I built dams, fenced the property, sunk 22 boreholes, purchased wildlife,” he says. But in 2001 the Mugabe regime forced him to surrender half his property—and half his hunting revenue—to 89 destitute Zimbabwean families as part of its land-redistribution plan. Threats were exchanged and, in 2003, Cumming and his wife fled the ranch and moved to Victoria Falls. At that point, a local safari company, Inyathi Hunting—partly owned by Mudenda, the former provincial governor and a close associate of Mugabe—signed a deal with the ranch’s new owners to take over commercial hunts on the property. During the past two years, Cumming charges, Inyathi has been ignoring quotas, hunting for game on other properties, and failing to keep track of wounded animals—a serious violation of hunting ethics. “Inyathi is hunting there knowing that they will not have the property forever, so there’s pillage and rape [of the environment],” Cumming charges.

Steve Williams, the founder of Inyathi and now a marketing consultant for the company, says that he and his partners had no qualms about buying rights to hunt on land that Cummings says was stolen from him. “If your government goes with it [as a policy], then you have to go with it,” he says. Williams claims that Cumming is spreading untrue reports because he is embittered about losing the property. “I can’t condemn the man for being emotional about something that’s been his for years, but we were never a part of that,” he says. He argues that much of the hunting revenue benefits poor black Zimbabweans who wouldn’t have shared the wealth during the days of white ownership. “The 89 black families who have taken over Woodland Estate now have safe drinking water, a better standard of living, an income. We’ve taken the blows, the allegations, the ridicule of people like Cumming. But we’re operating the property in a manner that we are proud of,” Williams says.

That may be so. But in September 2005, Mudenda, along with three other top officials of ZANU-PF, were accused by a conservation group in Zimbabwe of using fake hunting permits and poaching wildlife in the Intensive Conservation Areas in Matabeleland, established by the government in 1991 to protect rhino, elephant, lion and other prized species. All have denied the charges.

Debate also swirls around what many industry sources call the most controversial operator in Zimbabwe: Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris. Founded by four former South African policemen and based in both South Africa and Overland Park, Kan., the company has done a brisk business taking a heavily American clientele to hunt on several ranches that, according to industry watchdogs in Zimbabwe, were seized by ZANU-PF activists and independence war veterans. Critics, including the Zimbabwean Association of Tourism and Safari Operators, say that the group uses poorly trained hunting guides who, among other violations, sometimes endanger the lives of their clients and overhunt species in violation of the Zimbabwean government's hunting rules.

Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Authority banned Out of Africa last year from operating in the country. “This is an unscrupulous organization that doesn’t respect the environment and pursues unsustainable quotas,” says David Coltart, the opposition leader. Conservationist Johnny Rodrigues calls the company the most “flagrant violator” of hunting regulations in Zimbabwe. Dawie Groenewald, one of the founding partners of Out of Africa, denies that his company has done anything ethically wrong and says that he has been slandered by white Zimbabwean hunters. “The white Zimbabweans hunting in Zim don't want anyone else coming in there to hunt—they hate South Africans coming to hunt in their kingdom," he told NEWSWEEK. Out of Africa's attorney, Kevin Anderson, says that “these allegations about poaching and other illegal activities have been floating around for several years and they've never been substantiated.” Anderson also says that Out of Africa recently decided to stop organizing hunts in Zimbabwe because “it's just become too difficult.”

Whatever the case, next week in Reno, Out of Africa will set up its usual booth at the SCI convention—just down the hall from Buffalo Range Safaris, according to the SCI Web site. But for the hundreds of American sportsmen browsing for an African safari next week, finding out the full story of those two companies’ activities in Zimbabwe will require a real hunting expedition.

© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.

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