Venezuela Moves to Block Foreign Aid to Some Groups

The National Assembly, which is dominated by supporters of President Hugo Chávez, has passed a bill banning foreign financing for nongovernmental organizations and political parties, adding to a series of measures that critics say are intended to stifle dissent. The law approved by the National Assembly late Tuesday puts in jeopardy human rights groups and other organizations that get money from abroad, critics say, in part because it authorizes fines of as much as double the amount received by political parties or civic organizations.

It is one of many contentious laws that Mr. Chávez’s government is pushing through in the final weeks of the current assembly, in which there are only a token number of opposition lawmakers. A new legislature with a much larger opposition bloc will take office Jan. 5.

Human Rights Watch condemned the new law preventing groups and parties from accepting international donations, saying that it not only blocks financing for human rights activists but also “severely limits their ability to foster public dialogue with foreign experts who are critical of Chávez’s policies.”

The law specifies that it applies to groups that defend “political rights.” It also establishes penalties for groups that invite foreigners who publicly give “opinions that offend institutions of the state” or that offend senior officials. Organizations can be fined for such statements, and political parties can be fined and prevented from participating in elections for five to eight years.

Carlos Lusverti, who leads Amnesty International in Venezuela, said the law was vaguely worded and puts nongovernmental organizations at risk. He said his group received much of its financing from Amnesty International chapters in other countries.

If his group must survive only on what it can raise within the country, Mr. Lusverti said, “our activities are going to be severely reduced.”

Mr. Chávez has said that the new measures are needed to prevent foreign intervention, particularly by the United States government and organizations based in the United States.

Mr. Chávez asked last month why his government should permit Venezuelan political parties and civic organizations “to continue to be financed with millions and millions of dollars from the Yankee empire?”

The National Assembly also passed a bill on Tuesday that would allow for the suspension of lawmakers who leave their political party while in office. – Nytimes