GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemalan lawmakers approved changes to laws on non-governmental organizations that would give the executive branch the authority to allow such groups to operate or shut them down if they are deemed disruptive.
The measure prompted alarm on the part of civil society groups that worried it could be used to quash dissent, and others questioned its constitutionality.
President Alejandro Giammattei, who would have to sign or veto the bill, suggested in comments to journalists Wednesday that he views at least some aspects of it favorably.
The changes passed late Tuesday would regulate the formation, registration, finances and other aspects of NGOs’ activities.
One of the most criticized parts is related to funding and says “no donation or external financing may be used to carry out activities that disturb the public order in national territory.” Violators could be shut down immediately and their leadership subject to criminal or civil complaints.
“It affects the issue of freedom of association,” activist Helen Mack said, arguing that measure is authoritarian and repressive. “They want to control the organizations that bother them, the people who want to protest. We have a right to civil disobedience (and) we will take legal action.”
Giammattei said that some NGOs “have received resources for criminal actions.” He did not offer proof but said there have been complaints in the media.
He also said he agrees there should be more clarity on NGO funding: “We all want transparency.”
Human Rights Prosecutor Jordán Rodas said the law is being studied but appears to be in conflict with the constitution, particularly on matters such as freedom of association, protest and expression.
“I recommend that the president exercise his veto privilege,” Rodas said.
Lawmaker Luis Rosales Marroquín told journalists that the goal is not to prohibit NGOs but rather to install oversight for their financing.