A LAC Country
In the 2000s, the government of a Latin American country sought assistance from foreign embassies to increase the surveillance of civil society organizations (CSOs) receiving foreign funding through the creation of a new agency. The agency would oversee the activities of, and distribution of funding to, all CSOs. Civil society representatives believed this would effectively place them under the control of the government, restrict their activities, and limit their independence, as had happened in several other Latin American countries. CSOs focusing on democracy, governance, human rights, participation and advocacy feared that their activities, in particular, would be negatively affected by the agency due to the government’s history of refusing to participate in international programs supporting human rights.
To protect their independence, civil society leaders coordinated among themselves and the international donor community, to send a joint letter to the government urging it not to increase surveillance of CSOs receiving foreign funding. To achieve this successful outcome, CSOs began by mapping all of the international donors supporting programs in the country. They reached out to each donor to explain how the proposed agency could threaten the independence of the programs that the donors support. CSOs cited the experience of neighboring countries whose governments had created “coordination agencies,” which they used to manipulate the availability of donor funding to increase the power of their regimes.
The contents of the joint letter were agreed upon at a meeting between CSOs and the donors, which was hosted at a foreign embassy. Dozens of donor agencies endorsed the letter, which stated that:
- Donors were not breaking any international laws by providing assistance to CSOs;
- International and bilateral agreements, to which this country is a party, protected their ability to fund the activities of CSOs;
- Donors supported transparency and stated that all necessary information regarding their assistance programs were publicly available; and,
- Donors supported this country’s CSOs in their opposition to the government’s efforts to exert greater control over civil society.
The donors agreed that the joint letter they were to send to the government would not be made public in order to avoid creating tension between the government, donors, and CSOs. They felt issuing the joint letter publically would have been counterproductive and could have elicited a negative response from the government. Ultimately, the government decided not to create the agency.
Civil society activists believe their advocacy was successful because they invested time in creating strong relationships within the sector, with the donor community, and with other key actors. The collective strength of these relationships allowed civil society to effectively influence government decision making. Additionally, these relationships helped civil society establish a shared message, which activists leveraged to build trust among the public, the media, and other allies. Their strategies were also effective because they maintained their political independence, and refused to accept bribes or other forms of assistance from politicians and or corrupt actors.
International treaties to which many LAC countries are parties: