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Thor Halvorssen Mendoza

Thor Leonardo Halvorssen Mendoza commonly known as Thor Halvorssenis a human rights advocate and film producer with contributions in the field of public policy, public interest advocacy, individual rights and civil liberties, and pro-democracy advocacy in Latin America. The New York Times described Halvorssen in an August 2007 profile as a maverick "who champions the underdog and the powerless."

Halvorssen is president of the Human Rights Foundation, an organization devoted to protecting liberty in the Americas. He is a First Amendment Scholar at the Commonwealth Foundation of Pennsylvania. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Armando Valladares Foundation and the Advisory Board of the Charter School Advocacy Program. He is also founder of the Moving Picture Institute. He is a contributing author, responsible for the sections on the history of freedom of speech, of Bringing Justice to the People (2004).

Halvorssen's opinions have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, Time magazine, The Nation and National Journal, and he has appeared on television outlets such as Fox News Channels ''The O'Reilly Factorand Hannity & Colmes, MSNBCs Hardball with Chris Matthews'', CNN, and HBO.


Halvorssen was born in Venezuela to Thor Halvorssen Hellum, who served as a Venezuelan Ambassador for anti-Narcotic Affairs in the administration of Carlos Andres Perez and as special overseas investigator of a Venezuelan Senate Commission. His family was prosperous and Halvorssen is a descendant of Venezuela's first two presidents Cristobal Mendoza and Simon Bolivar through his maternal lineage: Mendoza. On his father's side he is the grandson of Oystein Halvorssen, the Norwegian kings consul who "built a family dynasty as the Venezuelan representative for corporations including Dunlop and Ericsson."John Strausbaugh . A Maverick Mogul, Proudly Politically Incorrect. , New York Times.

Halvorssen attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, with concurrent undergraduate and graduate degrees in Political Science and History. At university he was editor of The Red and Blue, a student newspaper described by The Weekly Standard as "an alternative conservative/libertarian weekly published by students and distributed on campus."Bunch, Sonny . Lights, Camera, Reaction: Thor Halvorssen's campaign to make Hollywood safe for non-leftists. The Weekly Standard. Retrieved on February 21, 2010. After his studies he moved to New York City.

Father's imprisonment

When Halvorssen Jr. was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania in 1993, his father was arrested while investigating the Medellin cartel for possible money laundering and bank fraud. His father was tortured, beaten, and in danger of being murdered during his 74-day incarceration in a Caracas jail on "trumped-up" charges of terrorism.Hilton, Isabel. "Presumed Guilty". ''Gentlemen's Quarterly (GQ)UK: July 1994.Fonzi, Gaeton. "The Troublemaker". The Pennsylvania Gazette'' (November 1994) Halvorssen Jr. led the campaign for his fathers release, garnering help from Amnesty International which issued protests along with other International organizations. Halvorssen was eventually found innocent of all charges. After his release the United Nations-affiliated International Society for Human Rights appointed him director of their Pan-American Committee. Venezuelan Anti-Drug Official Fights His Foes From a Prison Cell: Evidence suggests Thor Halvorssen was framed by Colombian drug lords and their Caracas `friends'; Christian Science Monitor. Boston, Mass.: Dec 20, 1993. Former Venezuelan Drug Official Freed; Christian Science Monitor. Boston, Mass.: Dec 24, 1993.Halvorssen, Thor. The Americas: The price of vigilance in Venezuela's banking community. Wall Street Journal. New York, N.Y.: Mar 4, 1994. pg. A9 Available online here.

Mother's shooting

While attending a peaceful protest of the Venezuelan recall referendum of 2004, Halvorssen's mother, Hilda Mendoza Denham, a British subject, was shot and wounded. According to the Human Rights Foundation, Halvorssens mother was "brutally gunned down and wounded by members of the Venezuelan government security apparatus while attending a peaceful public gathering. The gunmens actions were broadcast on live television as they shot into the crowd, leaving twelve wounded and one (woman) dead." Images of government supporters firing upon the demonstrators were captured by a live television broadcast. Olivares, Francisco. Otra vez los pistoleros. El Universal (5 September 2004). Retrieved on September 9, 2008. Gunmen were later apprehended En prision los detenidos por los sucesos de la plaza de Altamira. El Dia (24 August 2004). and identified as government supporters, including a policeman. Pistoleros de Altamira trabajan para el alcalde Jose Vicente Rangel Avalos. Notitarde (17 August 2004) Rodriguez, Gustavo. Identifican a pistoleros de Altamira. El Universal (18 August 2004) Three shooters were convicted, but in April, 2006, their sentences were revoked; they remained imprisoned, awaiting a new trial. Revocan condena a pistoleros de Altamira. Prensa.com (11 April 2006) The Wall Street Journal published an article about the shooting of Halvorssen's mother written by himself.Halvorssen, Thor L. The Price of Dissent in Venezuela. Wall Street Journal (Eastern edition), Aug 19, 2004. p. A.12 Discussed online here.


Halvorssen co-produced the film ''Freedom's Furywhich was executive produced by Lucy Liu, Quentin Tarantino, and Andrew Vajna. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.Cold War Tale Told at Last. New York Post. Available online. The film relates the story of the popular uprising against dictatorship that occurred in Hungary in 1956.

Halvorssen executive produced Hammer & Tickle, a film about the power of humor, ridicule, and satire as the language of truth under Soviet tyrannyjokes as a code to navigate the disconnect between propaganda and reality and as a means of resisting the system despite the absence of free speech. This film premiered at Tribeca in 2006 and featured Lech Walesa, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev and Roy Medvedev. The film won Best New Documentary Film at the Zurich Film Festival.

Halvorssen is listed as producer of the documentary Indoctrinate U'', "a documentary about left-wing bias on college campuses" which targets "the anti-intellectual, intolerant culture of (America's) nation's campuses". American Literary Theorist Stanley Fish wrote in the New York Times "the academy invites the criticism it receives in this documentary"Fish, Stanley . "Yet Once More: Political Correctness on Campus". The New York Times Opinionator. Retrieved on February 21, 2010. and the film received positive reviews from the Wall Street Journal, London Telegraph, New York Post, and CNN's Lou Dobbs who described the film as "extraordinary".

Halvorssen is producer of the film The Singing Revolution, a film about Estonia's peaceful struggle for political independence from Soviet occupation. The film premiered at the Black Nights Film Festival in December 2006 where it received a 15-minute standing ovation. Since then, it has become the most successful documentary film in Estonian box-office history.

Halvorssen produced The Sugar Babies, a film about human trafficking in the Dominican Republic and the plight of its migrant farm workers. The targets of the documentary are wealthy and politically connected sugar barons who live in West Palm Beach: The Fanjul Family.Miller, Kimberly. Fanjuls disturbed by film's portrayal of sugar 'slavery'. Palm Beach Post, . Retrieved on September 9, 2008. The film previewed at Florida International University where a heated exchange with the Dominican diplomatic envoy resulted in police presence. It received numerous negative reviews claiming the film's portrayal of big business and its relationship with the Dominican government was part of a campaign against the country's reputation. Death threats against the film's director and a bribery scandal involving the Dominican embassy have made the film a subject of intense media interest.

He is listed as sole producer of 2081, the film adaptation of author Kurt Vonnegut's short story Harrison Bergeron, a dystopian film about a future in which a tyrannical government arrests, imprisons without trial, and tortures those who disagree with the government policy of enforced sterilization and enforced handicapping. It premiered at the Seattle Film Festival and stars Academy Award nominee Patricia Clarkson, Julie Hagerty, James Cosmo, and Armie Hammer. The film's music was scored and recorded by the Kronos Quartet.

Democracy, civil liberties, and human rights advocacy

Lucent Technologies

In 1999, Halvorssen spearheaded a campaign on the floor of the Lucent Technologies annual shareholder meeting appealing for the creation of an anti-slave labor policy whereby Lucent would require China to certify that Lucent's products were not fabricated using slave labor. China's Laogai camps allegedly imprison eight million men, women, and children in 1100 factories, farms, and other facilities producing a wide range of consumer products.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

In 1999, Halvorssen became the first executive director and chief executive officer of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the national campus-focused civil liberties organization. According to The Dartmouth Review, FIRE was conceived as an "equal opportunity" antidote to the influential American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) considered to be overly partisan.

Halvorssen has worked on civil liberties matters with public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum. As head of FIRE, he formed coalitions that brought together the conservative and libertarian advocacy organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, Feminists for Free Expression, the Eagle Forum, with more traditional free speech defenders such as the ACLU. He has a track record of defending individuals both on the rightBuckley, William F. Jr. Who Do We Blame? The case of a YAF student chapter at Penn State. National Review . Retrieved on September 9, 2008. and on the left of the political spectrum.Carlson, Scott. University Orders Student Group to Remove Online Link to a Rebel Group's Web Site. The Chronicle of Higher Education . Retrieved on September 9, 2008.

In 2001, Halvorssen stated that, "Liberty of opinion, speech, and expression is indispensable to a free and, in the deepest sense, progressive society. Deny it to one, and you deny it effectively to all. These truths long have been ignored and betrayed on our campuses, to the peril of a free society." In a 2003 moderated chat, he said, "History has taught us that a society that does not respect individual rights, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech will not long survive as a free society in any form." Tests for Academic Freedom in a Time of War. The Chronicle of Higher Education. . Retrieved on September 9, 2008. In 2003 Halvorssen commented on the Venezuelan general strike of 2002-2003, aimed at bringing about the resignation of Hugo Chavez, saying that "the people (known as "the opposition") have taken a page out of Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged..."

U.S. News and World Report described FIRE in February, 2004 as "a major player in the campus wars", helping force "censorship-minded administrators into a defensive crouch".Leo, John. Campus censors in retreat. U.S. News and World Report February 8, 2004. Retrieved on September 9, 2008.

Human Rights Foundation

Halvorssen stepped down as head of FIRE in March, 2004, to join its Board of Advisors, saying he wanted to move in a different direction. According to him, "In my birthplace, Venezuela, the government constantly tramples its constitution; due process, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and economic liberty are all under assault. I know first-hand how readily innocent civilians may be arrested and even tortured for disagreeing with the government." He is no longer listed as a member of FIRE's Board of Advisors.

As someone who "personally understands the importance of protecting human rights" because of his family experiences, Halvorssen founded the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) in the spring of 2005. Like FIRE, the HRF was conceived as an alternative to other human rights organizations which he considered inconsistent. "'Progressive' organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are charged by critics as having redefined human rights in such a way as to weaken the concept and make it unworkable," Halvorssen said the group will instead "champion the definition of human rights that originally animated the human rights movement, centered on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny.". The foundation was incorporated in 2005, opening its headquarters in New York City in August of 2006. Its International Council includes several well-known prisoners of conscience such as Vaclav Havel, Elie Wiesel, Harry Wu, and Vladimir Bukovsky. It also includes democracy activists such as Mart Laar, and Garry Kasparov.

Halvorssen is a critic of Hugo Chavez,Halvorssen, Thor. Guerrilla Nation. The Weekly Standard . and has written on anti-Semitism and the assault on democracy and individual rights in Latin America.Halvorssen, Thor. Hurricane Hugo. The Weekly Standard, August 8, 2005, Volume 010, Issue 44. Also available at LookSmart. Halvorssen's criticisms have also been directed at Republicans such as Jack KempHalvorssen, Thor. Hugo Chavez vs. the Media. The Weekly Standard . as well as Democrats including John Conyers and Jose Serrano.Halvorssen, Thor. Comandante Chavez's Friends. The Weekly Standard . In a symposium published by the American conservative magazine National Review, he condemned Augusto Pinochet for his human rights abuses.

Awards and recognition

University of Pennsylvania president Judith Rodin honored Halvorssen's achievements by awarding him the Sol Feinstone Award for protecting student speech. Halvorssen is a supporter and fellow of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and belongs to the leadership board.


Halvorssen, Thor L (1996). Simon Bolivar and the Enlightenment, University of Pennsylvania.


Halvorssen Mendoza is known commonly as Thor Halvorssen. Per Venezuelan naming conventions, his full legal name includes both his father's (Halvorssen) and mother's (Mendoza) surnames. His full, legal, Venezuelan name distinguishes him from his father, Thor Halvorssen Hellum.

External links

Writings on the Venezuelan recall referendum of 2004

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