In 2018, Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. Democracy is in retreat.
In states that were already authoritarian, earning Not Free designations from Freedom House, governments have increasingly shed the thin façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades, when international incentives and pressure for reform were stronger. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law. Most troublingly, even long-standing democracies have been shaken by populist political forces that reject basic principles like the separation of powers and target minorities for discriminatory treatment.
Some light shined through these gathering clouds in 2018. Surprising improvements in individual countries—including Malaysia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Angola, and Ecuador—show that democracy has enduring appeal as a means of holding leaders accountable and creating the conditions for a better life. Even in the countries of Europe and North America where democratic institutions are under pressure, dynamic civic movements for justice and inclusion continue to build on the achievements of their predecessors, expanding the scope of what citizens can and should expect from democracy. The promise of democracy remains real and powerful. Not only defending it but broadening its reach is one of the great causes of our time.
Nayib Bukele, an outsider candidate, claims victory in El Salvador electionGene Palumbo and Elisabeth MalkinNew York Times February 3, 2019 “Analysts said…Mr. Bukele was able to set himself apart on the issue of corruption, which has roiled politics across Latin America and paved the way for candidates promising to combat it. In El Salvador, both traditional parties made for easy targets. Former President Tony Saca, an Arena politician, is serving a 10-year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty last year to charges of embezzlement and money laundering in the diversion of more than $300 million in public funds. Mauricio Funes, a former television broadcaster who was the F.M.L.N.’s first president, is accused of embezzling $351 million. In 2016, he fled to Nicaragua, which has granted him asylum. ”
Killings of Guatemala’s indigenous activists raise specter of human rights crisis Maria MartinNPR January 22, 2019 “Maya communities bore the brunt of almost four decades of a civil war that ended in 1996, leaving over 200,000 casualties, the majority indigenous Guatemalans, according to the United Nations. Now the mostly Maya organizations and many human rights groups worry that the violence is making a comeback: In just the last year, 26 members of mostly indigenous campesinoorganizations have been killed.”
The creeping criminalization of humanitarian aidThe New Humanitarian June 7, 2019 “At the heart of the trial of a volunteer with American migrant aid group No More Deaths that began in Arizona last week lies the question of when humanitarian aid crosses the line and becomes a criminal offense…. Aid organizations have long faced suspensions in difficult operating environments due to geopolitical or domestic political concerns – from Pakistan to Sudan to Burundi – but they now face a new criminalization challenge from Western governments, whether it’s rescue missions in the Mediterranean or toeing the US counter-terror line in the Middle East. ”
Six men convicted in 1982 murder of Chilean leaderPascale BonnefoyNew York Times January 30, 2019 “A judge convicted six men on Wednesday in the 1982 murder of former President Eduardo Frei Montalva of Chile, then the leader of the moderate opposition against the dictator Augusto Pinochet. In an 811-page ruling, Judge Alejandro Madrid found that the men — a former security agent, four doctors and Mr. Frei’s driver — conspired to slowly poison Mr. Frei after he had surgery in a private clinic in Santiago, the capital, and then worked to conceal the autopsy report…. ‘The battle doesn’t end here,’ said Mr. Frei’s son, also named Eduardo Frei, who was a president himself from 1994 to 2000. ‘Our next task is to establish the political responsibilities of high government officials at the time. This wasn’t the work of a few agents or doctors.’ “
Killings of Guatemala’s indigenous activists raise specter of human rights crisisMaria MartinNPR January 22, 2019 “Maya communities bore the brunt of almost four decades of a civil war that ended in 1996, leaving over 200,000 casualties, the majority indigenous Guatemalans, according to the United Nations. Now the mostly Maya organizations and many human rights groups worry that the violence is making a comeback: In just the last year, 26 members of mostly indigenous campesino organizations have been killed.”