As the economic and social crisis deepens in Venezuela, Transparency International, the global anti-corruption organisation, is concerned that the government will target those in civil society who speak out about the political crisis or other national problems, including anti-corruption activists.
“In times of hardship too often it is those who speak truth to power who are harassed and intimidated. The dire situation in Venezuela, where ordinary people are suffering because of bad government decisions, should not be used as a cover to attack and suppress civil society,” said José Ugaz, chair of Transparency International.
“The space for civil society should be protected. Many organisations working to help Venezuelans live lives free from corruption, insecurity and poverty, are part of international networks of civil society and this should not be used to target their work.”
President Nicolás Maduro declared a 60-day state of emergency on 13 May, centralising power. The emergency decree gives him discretionary power to suspend organisations that receive funds from outside the country. The National Assembly refused to approve the decree on 17 May and the Supreme Court will now have final say over it.
President Maduro claims the economic crisis, which has led to food and medical shortages, is a result of domestic and international opposition to his government. There is a petition gaining force in Venezuela calling for a referendum to remove him and demonstrations against the emergency decree are taking place in all major cities.
“Civil society in Venezuela should not be made a scapegoat for the pain Venezuelans are suffering,” said Mercedes de Freitas, Executive Director of Transparencia Venezuela, Transparency International's chapter in Venezuela. “Civil society must be allowed to fulfil its watchdog role to ensure the government is accountable to the people – especially in the times of a devastating crisis that harms the livelihood of the entire population.”
When the checks and balances in government are no longer in place there is a greater danger that the concentration of power will lead to abuses. Even before the state of emergency, the Venezuelan government had targeted civil society that spoke out in opposition to its policies.
Transparency International is deeply concerned that this harassment will be intensified. The international community must come together to protect Venezuelan civil society.
* This press release was updated on 18 May 2016 to reflect recent developments
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