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Bolsonaro: Brazilian Oversight of NGOs Will Be Tightly Controlled

Wearing a gag over her mouth, a woman holds a sign that reads in Portuguese "Down the dictatorship" during an act organized by the NGO Rio de Paz to remember the victims of Brazil's dictatorship, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Dec. 8, 2018.

Funding of nongovernmental organizations working in Brazil will be rigidly controlled, President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday, reflecting increased oversight by his new right-wing administration over such groups.

Plans to boost scrutiny over public funds that NGOs receive has raised concern that their activities might be restricted by a nationalist government that has criticized foreign interference in the Amazon region.

The responsibility for monitoring NGOs has been put in the hands of Government Secretary Carlos dos Santos Cruz, a retired Army general who said the initiative will help determine whether the organizations are fulfilling their role of carrying out work that complements government actions.

An executive order issued last week gave the new administration potentially far-reaching and restrictive powers over NGOs.

NGO and animal protection activists attend a protest against the export of live animals, in the port of Santos, Brazil, Feb. 4, 2018.
NGO and animal protection activists attend a protest against the export of live animals, in the port of Santos, Brazil, Feb. 4, 2018.

"The government's intention is to optimize the use of public funds and bring more benefits" to people assisted by the NGOs, Cruz said in an interview published on Monday on the G1 news\ portal.

He denied the intention was to restrict their activity.

"The plan is not to interfere in the life of the organizations or restrict anything. But it's public money. There needs to be transparency and there needs to be results," Cruz said.

Leaders of NGOs that work in Brazil, such as Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, said the decree on NGOs could be viewed in a positive light, but also expressed concerns.

If the new rules "facilitate a constructive relationship between international civil society groups and the government," that is positive. But Vivanco said he was also worried about how far the Bolsonaro government will go in monitoring the groups. Rules to increase oversight over NGOs was one of Bolsonaro's very first acts after he was sworn in on Jan. 1.

Bolsonaro's temporary decree, which expires unless it is ratified within 120 days by Congress, gives Cruz's office the power to "supervise, coordinate, monitor and accompany the activities and actions of international organizations and nongovernmental organizations in the national territory."