Human Rights Groups in Venezuela Say Chávez is Trying to Weaken Them

Human rights groups in Venezuela say that President Hugo Chávez and national legislators who are loyal to him are aiming to weaken them through proposed laws that would sharply reduce their sources of funding.

Specifically, leaders of these groups say they are worried over efforts to bar non-governmental organizations from receiving foreign funding. They fear that such a ban would make them fully dependent on limited domestic donations, and even put some of them at risk of disappearing.

The legislation would also compromise the autonomy of human rights groups, critics say.

The International Cooperation Law, which could soon be approved by lawmakers, would "impede NGOs from having sufficient resources," said Liliana Ortega, director of the Cofavic rights organization.

Chávez urged lawmakers this week to pass a law prohibiting Venezuela's political parties, human rights groups and election watchdogs from getting U.S. funds, but the bill being drafted by his political allies would ban all foreign money.

"It doesn't distinguish in regard to the origin of the funds," said Ortega, noting that many of the South American nation's non-governmental organizations depend on financing from European countries -- not the United States.

Chávez claims some of Venezuela's NGOs that have received funds from organizations with ties to the U.S. government are conspiring against his government with help from Washington -- an allegation that rights activists vehemently reject.

"If any organization is committing a crime, they should be brought to court," Ortega said.
Foro Por La Vida, an umbrella group representing dozens of rights organizations, expressed concern that Chávez aims to criminalize the work of rights activists simply because some have been critical of government policies.

"We are concerned, and we condemn the attempt to create a perception that raises doubts and suspicions regarding the conduct of human rights organizations," the group said in a statement Thursday.

Based on reporting from The Associated Press.

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