Venice is Sinking & Italy is Watching so Why Should the US Help?

by Melissa Fien

Venice is no doubt a cultural treasure, but without initiative on the part of the Italians to preserve the city, how much can the US really do? The harsh reality is: Venice is going to sink - and unless Italy takes more action - there is nothing anyone else can do about it. The law recognizes this unfortunate reality and therefore, requires the New York Attorney General to ban fundraising to save Venice until Italy has established a long-term plan for the city’s protection.

No Amount of Money Can Save Venice: The History and Future of Venice’s Flooding

The water which makes Venice the most majestic city in the world now threatens the city’s very existence. On November 4 1966, a flood hit Venice so hard that Venetians every day since have lived in terror for the next big flood. And, Venice does continue to flood. St. Mark’s Square and other areas of the city were flooded 101 times in 1996 and 79 times in 1997.1  Then, on November 6, 2000 Venice experienced the third worst flood since 1900 with ninety-three percent of the city being covered in water. Experts say that it is no longer a matter of whether Venice will flood , but simply when the flooding will occur.2  The "acqua alta" - the high waters that cause the flooding - are here to stay. And to make matters worse, the sea levels are rising. The combination of these factors will inevitably lead to the sinking of Venice.

For a number of years, Italy has been posing a system of mobile dykes and floodgates called MOSE as a solution. However, even Venice officials themselves do not believe that MOSE will actually provide a long-term solution.3  Global warming means that the floodgates will eventually be up almost all of the time, ultimately sealing the city from the sea. While a decision regarding the MOSE gates will be made in the next year, many doubt that MOSE will actually save Venice from sinking. Therefore, at the moment Venice is inevitably doomed.

The Law Requires the New York Attorney General to Ban Fundraising to Venice

Both United States and international law dictate that the New York Attorney General should ban fundraising to Venice until a long-term plan for the city’s protection has been established. First, the UN places the responsibility of saving Venice on Italy, not the United States. Second, Article 7-A of the Executive Law, Solicitation and Collection of Funds for Charitable Purposes instructs the New York Attorney General’s Charities Bureau to ban fundraising to Venice.

Italy’s Responsibility: If Italy Won’t Save Itself From Sinking, Why Should the US?

First, the UN places the responsibility of saving Venice on Italy, not the United States. Until Italy takes responsibility, international assistance (including assistance by the United States) is not warranted. Italy is the only one who can establish and implement a long-term plan. So, without action by Italy, assistance by the US is meaningless.

Article 4 of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage states that the legal duty to establish a long-term plan rests with Italy.4  Italy is the only one with the power to develop a long-term plan. Yet, Italy has failed to fulfill its duty under Article 4. Italy has failed to file a request to have Venice included on the World Heritage List in Danger.5  Since Venice is part of Italy’s territory, Italy must be the one to place Venice on the endangered list. If Venice had been included on this list, Italy would also have been able to request emergency financial assistance. However, because Italy only placed Venice and its lagoon as a common entry on the World Heritage List, UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee are limited in the actions they can take on behalf of Venice. They cannot make Venice a priority because Italy has not made Venice a priority. In addition, Italy neglected to use its influence and power to get UNESCO to pay more immediate attention to Venice. Until 1999, one of the vice-chairpersons of the World Heritage Culture was Italian, and consequently, Italy had a key position in the Bureau of WHC.6  Furthermore, the Italians could have put Venice on the urgent agenda of the International Center of Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM). ICCROM collects, studies, and circulates reports about the scientific and technical problems of the preservation and restoration of cultural property. Since Italy has neglected to satisfy its obligations under Article 4, outside assistance will do very little to help the situation.

Outside assistance on the part of the United States will continue to be meaningless until Italy establishes a long-term plan. However, it is unlikely that Italy will establish a long-term solution for three reasons. First, special law no. 798 of 1984 makes the implementation of a long-term plan nearly impossible. Law 798 requires that the city and the lagoon both be helped simultaneously.7  However, most efforts to save the city tend to hurt the lagoon and vice versa. Therefore, a long-term plan becomes implausible. Second, even Italy’s leading oceanographer and climatologist Roberto Frassetto, admits that there will never be a final solution for the protection of Venice.8  However, Venice no longer has the time for a "work in progress." If there will never be a final solution, Venice will sink no matter how much money is placed into trying to save it. Third, Italian politics make it difficult to implement a long-term plan. Italian politics is a "cat’s cradle of coalitions" at the state, regional, and city level. The Italian government has changed hands more than twenty times, and with each the change, the government’s priorities change as well.9  The prime minister and the mayor of Venice both depend on the Green party for support. The Green party rejected project Moses because of environmental concerns, and they will continue to reject any future proposals that do not account for the environment and the lagoon. The Green’s party rejection of the Moses plan has divided Venice, thereby making the implementation of a long-term plan even less likely. The chances that Italy will establish a long-term plan that can save Venice are extremely slim. Therefore, any money spent on trying to save money might as well just be thrown into the sea.

Italy’s Swindling Money from the United States: The Fraud and Deceit Must Stop

Second, United States law requires the New York Attorney General’s Charities Bureau to ban fundraising to Venice until a long-term plan is established. Italy does not have a long-term plan currently and will most likely not have a long-term plan in the future. By soliciting charitable contributions without a long-term plan for the city’s protection, Italy is engaging in a fraudulent act in violation of Article 7-A. Article 7-A states: "no person shall engage in any fraudulent or illegal acts, device, scheme, artifice to defraud or for obtaining money or property by means of a false pretense, representation, or promise, transaction or enterprise in connection with any solicitation for charitable purposes."10  The term fraud includes acts which may be characterized as misleading or deceptive. To establish fraud, neither intent to defraud nor injury need to be shown. So, even though Italy might intend to use the charitable contributions to help save Venice, Italy’s intentions are irrelevant. The fact that Italy is taking efforts to save Venice does not overcome the fact that Italy is defrauding donors by making a false promise. Italy is promising that the money donors contribute will help save Venice when unfortunately, this money will not help Venice. Furthermore, since the advertising used to seek charitable contributions says that the money will save Venice from sinking, any advertisements used to solicit funds are in further violation of Article 7-A. Absent a long-term plan, all the money in the world could be put towards saving Venice, and Venice would still sink. Italy is deceiving US citizens by allowing them to contribute to a hopeless cause. And, until Italy establishes a long-term plan for Italy’s protection, Italy will continue to mislead the US. The New York Attorney General, therefore, has an obligation under US law to prevent Italy’s fraudulent behavior by banning all fundraising to Venice until Italy can fulfill its promise that the charitable contributions will actually help save Venice.

Notes:

  1. See Ellen Knickmeyer, "Saving Sinking Venice," http://www/abcnews.com/sections/travel/DailyNews/venice981202.html

  2. See Anna Somers Cocks, "The ecological dangers of Venice are not being faced, say chairman of Venice in peril," http://www.theartsnewspapers.com/news.article.asp?idart=1292

  3. See Ellen Knickmeyer, "Saving Sinking Venice," http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/travel/DailyNews/venice981202.html

  4. See Krassimira J. Zourkova, "Saving Venice: The Practical Implications of the Law on Cultural Heritage Preservation" 15.

  5. See Id.

  6. See Id at 12.

  7. See Piero Piazzano, "Venice: Duels Over Troubled Waters," http://www.unesco.org./courier/2000_09/uk/planet.htm

  8. See Anna Somers Cocks, "The barriers for Venice are indispensable," http://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/article.asp?idart=3950

  9. See Krassimira J. Zourkova, "Saving Venice: The Practical Implications of the Laws on Cultural Heritage Preservation" 5

  10. Article 7-A of the Executive Law Solicitation and Collection of Funds for Charitable Purposes As Amended through the Laws of 1997 §172-d.