Venezuela Investigates NGO Funding

Timothy Gill

On October 2, the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) created a special commission to investigate foreign financing of groups that “aim to generate social commotion and coup plans against the national government." Three congressmen, including William Fariñas (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela [PSUV] – Nueva Esparta), the head of the Standing Commission for Security and Defense; Juan Carlos Alemán (PSUV – Distrito Capital) and Yul Jabour (Partido Comunista de Venezuela [PCV] – Cojedes) were designated members.

Fariñas stated that the special commission would first investigate funding provided by the US Department of State, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) for funding political organizations within the country, suggesting that these groups historically have supported and trained opposition parties such as Primero Justicia and Un Nuevo Tiempo.

On October 22, Alemán announced he had initiated an investigation into foreign financing for two institutions: the Metropolitan University and Súmate, an NGO that focuses on electoral institutions. 

Alemán accused Metropolitan University rector Benjamin Scharifker of using Israeli state funding to indoctrinate university students under a program entitled "Freedom and Democracy.”

Scharifker said he learned about the investigation from the media and has not been served any official documentation. However, he stated that he would “gladly provide them with them all the information they desire.” Scharifker has indeed acknowledged that the university receives foreign funding for some of its programs due to a lack of resources. However, he rejects the idea that he and the university have links with the Israeli Mossad, and that they are indoctrinating their students.

Alemán accused Súmate of receiving foreign funding from USAID for plans to destabilize the country. Súmate has faced similar accusations in the past. In 2004, the government accused the group of treason and conspiracy for receiving funding from the US government and the NED to collect signatures in order to recall then-President Hugo Chávez. The US government, however, has claimed that while it indeed provided periodic funding for the group, this funding was provided for politically neutral programs, such as providing citizens with voting information and electoral monitoring.  

Súmate is not unreasonably seen as an opposition group by the government, as several prominent opposition politicians, including Maria Corina Machado–former presidential candidate and now AN deputy (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática [MUD] – Miranda)–were once key members of the organization.

These accusations  follow the recent expulsion of three US diplomats (Kelly Keiderling, David Moo, and Elizabeth Hoffman) from the country after the government accused them of sabotage.

The three diplomats were filmed visiting Súmate offices in the state of Bolivar, where several prominent workers’ strikes have recently taken place. Keiderling acknowledged that they had indeed visited with members of Súmate, but stated that they were conducting their duties as diplomats by visiting prominent civil society organizations throughout the country.

In retaliation, the US government expelled three Venezuelan diplomats: Calixto Ortega Rios, the Venezuelan charge d’affaires; Monica Alejandra Sanchez Morales, the Second Secretary at the Washington embassy; and Marisol Gutierrez de Almeida, Venezuelan Consul at the Houston consulate.

Alemán has stated that both the Metropolitan University and Súmate could be prosecuted under the Law for the Defense of Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination, which the AN passed in December 2010. The law prohibits politicians, political parties, or NGOs working to foment political participation, from receiving any foreign financing.

Alemán also warned USAID that the Venezuelan government might consider expelling it from the country, as the Bolivian government did in May 2013 and the Russian government did in September 2012.