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International Coalition Expresses Concern for Democracy in Venezuela

Press release

November 11, 2004 - WASHINGTON, DC -- Former Czech President Vaclav Havel, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) are members of an international coalition of more than 70 democrats who sent a letter this week to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expressing concern over the prosecution of civic activists in that country, calling it a "grave threat to democracy." Other prominent signatories include former Nicaraguan President Violetta Chamorro, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Bulgaria Philip Dimitrov and Richard Goldstone, former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia.

The letter, which is also addressed to the President of Venezuela's Supreme Court and to the President of the National Assembly, specifically raises the case of Sumate, an NGO that received $31,150 in funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) for civic education efforts related to Venezuela's August 15 recall referendum.

"It has come to our attention that the leaders of Sumate, a civic organization, face criminal prosecution for accepting international assistance to help educate citizens about their rights under Venezuela's constitution," reads the letter. "As democrats, we are appalled that this group is being singled out for punishment, a group whose deep commitment to democratic principles we share and applaud."

The letter also criticizes pending legislation that could criminalize receipt of international democracy assistance, in violation of Venezuelan commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Warsaw Declaration of the Community of Democracies.

"We are equally troubled that this prosecution appears to be just the beginning of a larger effort to criminalize the receipt of foreign funds by Venezuelan NGOs. We agree with the denunciations of this proposed "reform" of the penal code by human rights groups in Venezuela and elsewhere as a clear violation of international standards and practices."

NED President Carl Gershman, who returned Wednesday from a trip to Venezuela where he sought to improve government and public understanding of the Endowment and the objectives of NED's grants to civil society groups said, "International democracy assistance in support of independent institutions of civil society is today an established feature of international relations." During his trip, Gershman and NED representatives met with the President of Venezuela's Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rincon and the Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez, to whom they personally delivered the coalition's letter. "We hope that by alerting the Venezuelan authorities to the seriousness of international concern on the issues of Sumate and international democracy assistance, they will refrain from taking actions that would be counterproductive for everyone involved," said Gershman.

NED is a private, nonprofit, grant-making organization created in 1983 to strengthen democratic institutions around the world. It is active in more than 80 countries, supporting grassroots democratic initiatives. More information about NED is available at www.ned.org http://www.ned.org

Full text of letter and signatures follows:

Excelentísimo Señor Hugo Chávez, Presidente de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela

Excelentísimo Señor Iván Rincón, Presidente del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia

Excelentísimo Señor Francisco Ameliach, Presidente de la Asamblea Nacional

Estimados Señores:

Nos dirigimos a ustedes, como demócratas que representamos a diferentes pueblos del mundo, con el objeto de expresar nuestra solidaridad y preocupación por la situación a la cual están sometidos algunos de nuestros colegas demócratas venezolanos quienes, en estos momentos, son perseguidos por ejercer sus derechos civiles.

Tenemos conocimiento sobre la situación que afecta a los representantes de Súmate, una organización civil que promueve y defiende los derechos políticos de los ciudadanos venezolanos, quienes están sometidos a un proceso judicial por recibir financiamiento internacional para diseñar y ejecutar un programa de educación ciudadana dirigido a dar a conocer los mecanismos de participación política y ciudadana, derechos establecidos en la Constitución. Como demócratas, nos sentimos en la obligación de denunciar este caso ya que el gobierno venezolano está persiguiendo a un grupo con el cual compartimos el mismo y profundo compromiso con la democracia.

Estamos igualmente preocupados porque este caso parece ser el primer paso de un esfuerzo oficial por criminalizar la solicitud y uso de fondos internacionales por parte de Organizaciones No Gubernamentales venezolanas. Asimismo, compartimos las denuncias formuladas por grupos de derechos humanos en Venezuela y en otros países contra la reforma propuesta del Código Penal la cual pretende sancionar, con la máxima pena aplicable en Venezuela, el financiamiento internacional a ONGs.

Enjuciar y castigar Organizaciones No Gubernamentales por recibir financiamiento dirigido a fortalecer la democracia es una violación de la Carta Democrática Interamericana y de la Declaración de la Comunidad de Democracias de Varsovia. Debemos recordar que el gobierno venezolano firmó, hace cuatro años, la Declaración de Varsovia junto a más de cien países.

Por otra parte, la base de las acusaciones contra la Asociación Civil Súmate es el financiamiento otorgado por el National Endowment for Democracy (NED), la cual es una fundación privada muy respetada a nivel internacional por los programas que desarrolla en más de ochenta países para promover y defender la democracia. El NED es un ejemplo de las docenas de fundaciones que, en América del Norte, Europa y Asia, se dedican a promover la democracia. Estas fundaciones reciben financiamiento público de los parlamentos de sus países con el fin de apoyar programas dirigidos a fortalecer la democracia, como lo es el programa que está llevando a cabo Súmate.

Como demócratas del mundo, rogamos a ustedes su intervención para reconsiderar tanto el proceso judicial contra los líderes de Súmate como el proyecto legislativo de reforma del Código Penal que busca criminalizar la recepción de asistencia democrática internacional. Estas actuaciones de los poderes judicial y legislativo venezolanos son inconsistentes con las normas democráticas internacionales y representan una grave amenaza contra la democracia.

Atentamente, Los abajo firmantes

1. Morton Abramowitz, Senior Fellow, Century Foundation

2. Mahnaz Afkhami, Founder and President, Women's Learning Partnership

3. Sergio Aguayo, Professor, El Colegio de Mexico

4. Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State

5. Sergio Fernando Araya Alverado, President, Colegio Ciencias Politicas y Relaciones Internacionales de Costa Rica

6. Zainah Anwar, Executive Director, Sisters in Islam, Malaysia

7. Bernard Aronson, former Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America and the Caribbean (US)

8. Genaro Arriagada, former Chilean Ambassador to the U.S.

9. Timothy Garton Ash, Senior Research Fellow, St. Anthony's College, Oxford and Director European Studies Center

10. Ronald Asmus, German Marshall Fund

11. Dr. Werner Bohler, Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung, Germany

12. Robert M. Borden, CEO, Bumpers Corporation (Canada)

13. Jack Buechner, President, US Association of Former Members of Congress

14. Emma Bonino, former European Union Commissioner and former member, European Parliament (Italy)

15. William E. Brock, former US Senator and former Secretary of Labor

16. Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell, Former Prime Minister of Canada

17. Frank Carlucci , former National Security Advisor (US)

18. Violeta Chamorro, former President of Nicaragua

19. Lorne Craner, President, International Republican Institute and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

20. Michael Danby, Member of Parliament, Australia

21. Gianfranco Dell'Alba, Member of European Parliament, Italy

22. Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution and co-editor, Journal of Democracy

23. Philip Dimitrov, former Prime Minister, Bulgaria

24. Jorge Dominguez, Professor, Harvard University

25. Thomas R. Donahue, President Emeritus, AFL-CIO

26. Nicholas Eberstadt, American Enterprise Institute

27. Peter Eigen, Chairman, Transparency International

28. Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics, The University of Chicago

29. Joao Carlos Espada, Director, Institute for Political Studies, Portuguese Catholic University

30. Francis Fukuyama, Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy,

31. Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

32. Richard Goldstone, former Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunal for FormerYugoslavia

33. Peter Hakim, President, Inter-American Dialogue

34. Vaclav Havel, former President, Czech Republic

35. Francois Heisbourg , French Academic

36. Bi-khim Hsiao, Member of Parliament, Taiwan

37. Penn Kemble, Senior Fellow, Freedom House

38. Harvey Klehr, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Politics and History, Emory University

39. Stephan Klingelhofer, President, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

40. Robert LaGamma, Council for a Community of Democracies

41. Bolívar Lamounier, Augurium Consulting, Brazil

42. Amb. Luis Lauredo, former U.S. Ambassador, Organization of American States

43. Ulrich Laute, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Germany

44. John McCain, US Senator

45. Edward J. McElroy, President, American Federation of Teachers

46. Matthew McHugh, former Member of US Congress

47. Edward McMillan-Scott, Member of European Parliament (UK)

48. Sascha Müller-Kraenner, Heinrich Böll Stiftung

49. Ghia Nodia, Chairman, Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, Republic of Georgia

50. Janusz Onyszkiewicz, former Minister of Defense, Poland

51. Marco Pannella, Member of European Paliament (Italy)

52. Amb. Mark Palmer, Vice Chairman, Freedom House

53. Robert A. Pastor, Director, Center for Democracy and Election Management, American University

54. Theodore Piccone, Democracy Coalition Project (US)

55. Surin Pitsuwan, Member of Parliament, Thailand

56. James N. Purcell, former Director General, International Organization for Migration

57. Xiao Qiang, U.of California at Berkley, Past Executive Director, Human Rights in China

58. John Richardson, Chair, Council for a Community of Democracies

59. Markus Rosenberger, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Perú

60. Richard C. Rowson, Council for a Community of Democracies

61. John Shattuck, CEO, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

62. Michael Shifter, Vice President for Policy, Inter-American Dialogue

63. Stephen Solarz, Former Member of US Congress

64. Theodore C. Sorensen, Former Special Assistant to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

65. Strobe Talbott, former Deputy US Secretary of State

66. Amb. Terence Todman, former US Ambassador to Argentina, Costa Rica and Spain

67. Elisabeth Ungar, Universidad de los Andes (Colombia)

68. Arturo Valenzuela, Director, Center for Latin American Affairs, Georgetown University

69. Gianni Vernetti, Member of Parliament, Italy

70. Alexandr Vondra, former Deputy Foreign Minister, Czech Republic

71. Gerhard Wahlers, Head of International Cooperation, Konrad Adenauer Foundation

72. Reinhard Willig, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung-Costa Rica

73. Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director, Freedom House

74. Kenneth Wollack, President, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs

75. Mortimer Zuckerman, Editor, U.S. News and World Report and New York Daily News

Nota: Los titulos sirven inicamente para identifacar a las personas



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