Does Article 350 Authorize Tax Resistance in Venezuela?

As I monitor rumblings of tax resistance around the interwebs, there are occasionally outbreaks from Venezuela, which has become something of a nation-scale cautionary tale in recent years. Many of those rumblings invoke “350” — Article 350 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which reads:

The people of Venezuela, true to their republican tradition and their struggle for independence, peace, and freedom, shall disown any regime, legislation, or authority that violates democratic values, principles, and guarantees or that encroaches upon human rights.

No Pagues El ISLR en Desobediencia Civil. ¡Desobediencia Tributaria! Es legítima y legal se consagra en el articulo 350 de nuestra Constitución. En estos momentos el régimen Castro comunista está transgrediendo los valores, principios, garantías democráticas y menoscabando los derechos humanos de todos los venezolanos. No financies al régimen.

“Don’t Pay Income Tax in Civil Disobedience. Tax Resistance! It is legitimate and legal as enshrined in article 350 of our Constitution. Right now the Castro-communist regime is transgressing the democratic values, principles, and guarantees and is undermining the human rights of all Venezuelans. Don’t finance the regime!”

El Nacional looks into how Article 350 might work in practice, now that the organized opposition in Venezuela has formally invoked it. An excerpt about tax resistance:

“Another example is tax resistance, an act penalized by the Tax Code. If someone invokes this article in executing this type of resistance, they will engage in this crime. This is the practical problem of civil disobedience. When it is exercised against a government that does not recognize [the Article 350 right], the executive considers that these citizens are not exercising a right but are acting outside the law,” said [constitutional law expert Jose Ignacio Hernandez]

Toine Manders is the founder of the Dutch Libertarian Party. Manders testified recently at a Parliamentary Committee on Taxation hearing, prompted by the Panama Papers, about international tax havens and other forms of tax evasion, which Manders is also being criminally accused of facilitating. By using the opportunity to speak up in favor of tax evasion, he provided a rare opportunity for that side to be heard in the halls of government.

His testimony is also remarkable for how he links tax resistance with conscientious objection to compulsory military service, also a subject near and dear to him. Here is an excerpt (liberally translated) from an answer he gives to a skeptical interrogator who asks the usual “but what about all the good things our taxes pay for” question:

Okay. I will give you my point of view. My stance is that everybody has the right to their body and property, and that everybody may do what they want, so long as they do not violate the rights of others. This is a fundamental human right: the right of self-determination.

The state violates this right in multiple ways — including compulsory military service, which has still not been abolished — and also imposing taxes. I have earned my living by advising people who were drafted into compulsory military service, helping them to avoid it, because I saw it as a great injustice: a form of forced labor imposed on innocent people.

When that was suspended, I turned my attention to tax evasion, because, according to the same principles, I think taxes constitute a violation of property rights: the right to own the fruits of your labor.

For thousands of years, the state used this money to enrich the nobility and the king. After that, they began to use part of that money to give it to the people: they distributed gifts among the people in order to legitimize taxes. But this does not legitimize them.

The term “robbery” applies when property is taken from you by the threat of violence (when you have not caused damages that you refuse to compensate, nor are you in breach of an agreement that you voluntarily entered into). And this is exactly what the state does. If you have to pay taxes, according to the state’s rules, and you do not, then people will come to plunder your home. And if you resist, you will be treated as a criminal. If you don’t file your taxes, you will be locked up for up to four years for refusing to file.

This is how the state gets money: by threatening to lock people into cages. And I have no problem if you do this with murderers, rapists, robbers, or scammers. But if you do it to innocent people, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, like draftees or taxpayers, then it is a great injustice. And I fight against that injustice.

And that is why I have not only devoted much of my life to spreading these ideas — politically as leader of the Libertarian Party, but also in my professional career, protecting people from the injustice that the state tries to commit against them. And the fact that some of that money is not used by the political elite to fill their pockets, but is distributed as gifts (which we have not asked for) does not legitimize the theft.