Ecuador shuts down foreign NGO operations

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 19 Aug 2011 18:27 GMT
Author: Anastasia Moloney
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BOGOTA (AlertNet) - Ecuador has ordered the shutdown of the operations of 16 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) amid tighter rules on foreign groups operating in the Andean nation.

The Ecuadorian government announced the decision earlier this month after some NGOs failed to meet a government deadline to provide reports about their activities, including up-to-date information about partner organisations, annual budgets and objectives.

On the government blacklist are NGOs from the United States, Italy, Spain, Germany, Britain, Argentina and Colombia among others.   

"We are not trying to expel any NGO, but the groups and the state must meet the obligations under previous agreements," Gabriela Rosero, head of the government agency responsible for overseeing foreign NGOs, known as SETECI, said in a statement. 

The government, under new laws passed in July governing the work of foreign NGOs, is entitled to know about the funding they receive, how it is being spent and how their work fits in with the overall aims of state social programmes, so that awareness about good practices can be raised, she added.

The medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF) was also included in the list. But it says it has not operated in the country since 2007.

“It’s a misunderstanding,” Dr Luis Paiz, head of MSF in Argentina, told AlertNet in an interview. “We officially stopped working in Ecuador when we transferred the HIV/AID programmes after 12 years to the government.”

“We’d like to keep the doors open,” he added. “We’ve always had close relations with the ministry of health.” 

NGOS FREEDOM IN DOUBT

The latest move raises questions about the freedom of foreign NGOs working in Ecuador at a time when the government is increasingly critical of foreign NGOs and agencies, in particular the U.S. development agency, USAID.

Last month, Ecuador’s leftist president, Rafael Correa, said some of the 142 foreign NGOs working in Ecuador were looking to destablise the government and spread right-wing propaganda.

"They are extreme right-wing NGOs that seek to replace governments to impose their policies, and if they cannot, they destabilize governments," President Correa said on state television.  

“The party is over,” Correa added, referring to those NGOs who he said were not coordinating their work with the government, were failing to register officially, and who, by failing to report their activities, were not complying with the law. 

This is not the first time the government of Correa has clamped down on NGOs.

In 2009, the government attempted to dissolve a leading environmental group, Ecological Action, which had been an outspoken critic of the government’s environmental policies and had supported protests by indigenous groups against mining operations.

(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)