Criminalization of NGOs in Venezuela Draws International Attention

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New Law in Venezuela Tightens Grip on NGOs

In a significant effort to control and restrict the activities of non-governmental organizations in Venezuela, the Chavista majority of the National Assembly (AN) recently passed a bill aimed at monitoring and regulating the operations of NGOs in the country.

The bill, titled “Investigation, Regularization, Action and Financing of Non-Governmental and Related Organizations” has already gone through the first discussion and has been sent to the Internal Policy subcommittee and will then likely return to the plenary of Parliament for promulgation by the Executive branch.

International organizations have been quick to express their disapproval of the Venezuelan government’s initiative, describing it as “a bill that seeks to criminalize and further hinder the work of civil society organizations in Venezuela”.

In the speech to present the bill, Diosdado Cabello, vice president of the Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV) and second figure in power within Chavismo, accused Venezuelan NGOs of being agents of foreign governments seeking to destabilize the country. Arguments in the bill claim that “since the second half of the 20th century, attempts have been made to promote the use of civil associations as a mechanism that promotes and develops actions in certain countries, promoted and financed from the centers of hegemonic power.”

The bill requires NGOs to register in a new National Registry of Non-profit Organizations, and keeps the State regularly informed about their activities, sources of financing and their relations with other national or international subjects. In cases of non-compliance, the bill proposes fines of up to 12,000 dollars, legal responsibilities, and the potential suspension or dissolution of the NGO.

The continued implementation of this bill is likely to push the country’s “Central Index of Civil Society” (CCSI) further downwards. This index, designed to measure how solid the civil society of a country is, had an initial value of 0.88 in 1998, but has since dropped to 0.31 in 2021 – which is below the average of 0.7 for Latin America in that year.

Additionally, according to the Center for Defenders and Justice, between 2017 and 2021 the Venezuelan State had been strengthening its “policy of criminalization, repression and social control”, and registered a total of 1,654 attacks and incidents by the State against people and organizations that represent human rights and humanitarian action in the country.

The Venezuelan government’s moves to restrict the activities of NGOs is reflective of a state policy of a continuous closure of the Venezuelan civic space that was initiated back in 1999, and presents an increasingly ominous horizon for non-governmental organizations in the country.

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