A sheepish Venezuelan congress shepherded by President Hugo Chavez and his cronies passed a new law banning foreign funding for political parties and non-government organizations (NGO’s), this, in addition to a series of measures that opposing parties say, aim to smother dissidents, by limiting or cutting their financing.
Human Rights Watch condemned the new “Law for the Defense of Political Sovereignty and National Self-determination,” alleging it not only blocks funding for human rights activists but also “severely limits their ability to foster public dialogue with foreign experts who are critical of Chavez’s policies.”
Organizations that accept money from abroad face fines for up to double the amount received.
Carlos Lusverti, head of Amnesty International in Venezuela, said the law is precariously worded and will directly affect NGO’s. “If we’re going to work only with what our local fundraising gives us ... our activities are going to be severely reduced,” Lusverti said. He added that his branch receives much of its funding from chapters in other countries.
Chavez has said the measures are needed to prevent foreign intervention, particularly by the U.S. government.
“How are we going to permit political parties, NGOs ... to continue to be financed with millions and millions of dollars from the Yankee empire?” Chavez said.
This is just one of many controversial laws Chavez’s government is pushing through in the final weeks of a congress that had only a minimal opposition presence. A new legislature with a much larger opposition coalition takes office Jan. 5.
Other laws recently approved aim to enforce harsh regulations on the Internet, such as the right to bar and control online messages, allow for authorities to revoke licenses to TV and radio stations. Laws that to the naked eye seem a bit ludicrous, like the one that says banks are declared to be of “public utility,” allowing the government’s to meddle in the affairs of almost every sector in the country.
Newly elected opposition lawmakers said in a joint statement that the laws are “dismantling democracy” and symbolize a “state run coup d’etat.” They called the laws unconstitutional, saying they give Chavez “absolute control.”
Chavez dismissed accusations that the laws are driving Venezuela toward “dictatorship,” alleging that the main reason behind the decree powers is to “speed housing solutions after recent floods and landslides.”