Sunday, March 9, 2014

NGO Purge

On his way out of the government, Áfrico Madrid, Interior Minister under Porfirio Lobo Sosa, saw the final step in a long-brewing confrontation in which he has been engaged.

That step? abolishing his opponents-- more than 10,000 NGOs.

Friday La Gaceta published a decree revoking the legal status of 5429 NGOs. The Unidad de Registro y Seguimiento de Asociaciones Civiles (URSAC), a part of the Interior Ministry, issued the decree that revokes the permission of these NGOs to operate.

This comes slightly more than a month after Madrid revoked the legal status of another 4800 NGOs in mid January.

Honduras reportedly had about 16,000 NGOs at the start of 2013. So altogether, these two decrees succeeded in abolishing more than half of the NGOs in the country.

That makes it a little harder to figure out who this campaign was really targeting and why.

We would remind readers that back in 2010, the Honduran Congress passed a law to define the characteristics of an evangelical Christian church, declared unconstitutional in 2012, that advanced Madrid's agenda to abolish evangelical churches he felt were "fringe" groups.

According to the decree published this week, the named institutions failed to comply in some way with a previous decree 770-A-2003 regulating NGOs, which gave a 30 day window for every NGO to supply an annual activities report, a financial report, indicate its officers, and so on.

What does the abolishment of these NGOs translate to, in practice?

They can no longer sign contracts or hold bank accounts.

They are ordered to liquidate any property and goods held, and donate the proceeds of that liquidation to a still extant NGO with a similar goal.

All Honduran banks and government agencies were notified of the loss of rights of these 5,429 NGOs.  In 30 days, their bank accounts will be frozen by the government, and any remaining assets seized.

This is not just a matter of eliminating a few small and inconsequential groups that were struggling.

Among the NGOs cancelled was the Asociación Comite por Libre Expresión (C-Libre), the most visible group monitoring press freedom in Honduras, composed of of journalists and others.

Hector Longino Becerra, president of the organization, said that the action against C-Libre was part of an attack on organizations that are critical of the government. Becerra said that all of C-Libre's paperwork with URSAC was complete and up to date, and he possessed the receipts to show the filing was done on time.

In the wake of the Friday publication of La Gaceta, Jorge Montes, head of URSAC, claimed Saturday that the NGOs still had 30 days to make things right and avoid cancellation.

That claim is hard to understand since the published law reportedly cancels the legal right to exist of the named NGOs. Montes claims that each NGO's legal representative will be notified in 30 days of the cancellation if, prior to that, their paperwork is not brought up to date.

He emphasized three kinds of reports that need to be filed: a report on activities; a financial report that indicates what money the group holds, where it came from, and where and how it will be spent, and where the NGO's assets are; and an up-to-date list of officers.

The Civil Society Group that advises the government is disturbed by all this and has requested a meeting with Rigoberto Chang Castillo, current Interior Minister, and thus the head of URSAC.

They stated:
It is the responsibility of the state to create an enabling environment for the functioning of civil society organizations and to keep watch over the unfettered right to free association.

Their point: the Honduran government isn't doing that when 62% of the country's legally established NGOs are disestablished by the government.

We couldn't agree more.


John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

Taking a quick look at the Gaceta for February 28 I noticed that of the 5249 groups with "personeria juridica" that are challenged at least 3,687 are ADEL - Local Educational Development Associations connected with schools.

There are also a few Heonduran NGOs I know of including Red Comal and Poligono. There are also a few international NGOs I notedL Heifer International, Technoserve, and Hombro a Hombro.

A question I have is whether these are all NGOs as we in the US understand them (usually connected with non-profit status) or are some of them just groups who had corporate personhood? My sense is that these NGOs are not all exactly non-profits. But I could be very wrong in this.

Unknown said...

Hi Juan, Where can I access past editions of La Gaceta? I am keen to see this list, but can only seem to access the latest edition of the newsletter on the website.
Thanks for your help.

RNS said...

John sent a link to a blog which posted the new law:

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

Today I spoke with someone who has worked with various NGOs here but had not heard of the law until today.
I asked him about the ADELes. They were set up some years ago; he suggested int he 1980s. But they are not functioning anymore.
Now the municipal organizations related to education are called COMDE - Municipal Commission for Educational Development.
It seems that part of this legislation was to cull organizations that were not active.
The question, though, is why some organizations that are active are on the list.

RNS said...

There's a little of everything on the list, publishers like Editorial Guaymuras, churches, museums, foundations like FIAN, and that's just in the first 1200 listings. I haven't had time to go through all of it.

Unknown said...

RNS, thank you for that link - very helpful.

RNS said...

Today the Secretaria de Derechos Humanos, Justicia, Gobernabilidad y Descentralización claims that NGOs are not being cancelled. His claim is that the 5429 cancelled in that law either didn't respond to government inquiries for the information or were temporary and no longer exit.

Yeah, right. Editorial Guymuras, Red Comal, Fundación Museo de niños "Pequeños de Sula", Museo Ferroviario de El Progreso, FIAN, C-Libre, Heifer International, all ignored the government call. How stupid do you think we are?

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

And Fundación Poligono Copaneco here in Santa Rosa de Copán - founded by former Santa Rosa bishop Luis Alfonso Santos.