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Cooperation Law and Social Control

On May 4, 2022, the Permanent Commission on Foreign Policy, Sovereignty, and Integration of the National Assembly -voted but not elected in December 2021- began the discussion of a new draft International Cooperation Law.

The first attempt to control the sources of financing for Venezuelan civil society organizations dates back to 2009. Once the Chavista project had gained control of State institutions and dismantled the productive apparatus, the third step aimed at controlling other organized expressions of society. To this end, in 2010 the package of laws of “popular power” was launched, which aimed at the creation of the unconstitutional communal State (retaken in 2021).

Thus, in 2010 a new University Education Law (LEU) was approved, which did not see the light of day due to a presidential veto, although it has been applied by way of deeds. On that occasion, the civil society organizations (CSOs) carried out an intense advocacy activity, managing to prevent the attempt to discuss an international cooperation law from succeeding. However, since then the threat of this law has remained latent.

Although, as is customary in the ruling party’s rhetoric, human rights are invoked throughout the text, the bill affirms that it is founded on international relations based on cooperation, self-determination, solidarity, and Latin American integration, but the security of the nation is also invoked, which seems to be the real reason behind this bill.

The statement of reasons affirms that the project was formulated by a technical group with the participation of different State entities. Non-governmental organizations were not part of the consultation, despite being the sector to which most of the regulations, demands and sanctions referred to in the project fall.

In general, it is a project that nationalizes international cooperation, as is clear from article 3, which, when defining international cooperation, understands it as “the means by which the Venezuelan State receives, transfers and exchanges human resources, goods, services, capital and technology from external and internal cooperating sources…” (emphasis added), with which international cooperation would be focused as an exclusive activity of the State, to which any related activity from the private sector would be subordinated. This statizing approach is confirmed in article 7, by establishing that the areas of international cooperation “will preferably cover those established in the National Development Plan”.

International cooperation, according to the bill, will be developed in the areas of energy; technical and scientific; economic and financial; humanitarian aid, both food and emergency, including to countries experiencing armed conflict, implemented through bilateral or multilateral agreements; education for development and social awareness; technology transfer; and development of infrastructure works for the well-being of the people. This list leaves out areas such as culture, sports, social development and the promotion and protection of human rights. this exclusion could reveal that these are not priority areas for the government

The proposal has the purpose of controlling civil society, to the extent that it declares mandatory the registration of organizations in an Integrated Registration System for non-governmental organizations (article 18), despite the fact that the previous article recognizes that organizations Non-governmental entities are constituted “in accordance with the provisions established in the laws that govern the public registry of documents”, so a new registry would be redundant, unless its purpose is to exercise control that is not permitted by current regulations, such as article 23, which establishes a duty of information for NGOs, which must provide “to the competent authorities, as well as to any citizen who requests it, information and data on their constitution, statutes, activities carried out origin, administration and destination of its resources, with a detailed specification of its sources of financing”.

For its part, article 24 imposes, based on a supposed principle of transparency, the possibility that organizations be audited, when that requirement already exists in the current regulations. Again, more than a requirement, it seems to be a double control, in this case, expressed in very broad and discretionary terms.

Finally, article 26 creates a vague and indeterminate sanction by establishing that “all those non-governmental organizations, foundations or non-profit associations, public or private, will be subject to evaluation for the purposes of their prohibition, suspension, restriction or definitive elimination. , that carry out international cooperation activities in the territory of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela that, directly or indirectly, promote or participate with other associations, organizations, governments or international organizations, in the application of unilateral coercive measures against the Republic in particular when said measures threaten or affect the comprehensive development of the nation.”

The way this project is written, compared to previous versions, makes it clear that it is more important than ever to control cooperation at a time when humanitarian aid is coming in that the government does not control and, therefore, it is not possible to use for proselytizing and social control purposes. The law is also a control mechanism and possible financial strangulation of independent associations. Thus, the intended recovery and normalization of the situation in Venezuela contrasts with the increasingly oppressive closure of civic space.