Foreign Policy

Global Freedom Had Few Blooms

Why 2009 was a bleak year

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This year marked the 20th anniversary of the blossoming of democracy around the world, stimulated in part by the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. Far from producing much new growth, however, 2009 brought to mind an old folk song: Where have all the flowers gone?

Not to China, which had an anniversary of its own—the 20th since Chinese students occupied Tiananmen Square in an inspiring call for democracy and liberty, only to be crushed by the army. Looking back, Beijing shows no remorse. In fact, Human Rights Watch said in May, it "continues to victimize survivors, victims' families, and others who challenge the official version of events."

This June 4, Tiananmen Square was occupied again—by battalions of police. This month, Liu Xiaobo, the chief author of a manifesto calling for democracy and human rights, was indicted for "incitement to subvert state power."

A human rights lawyer was shot to death, along with a student journalist, in broad daylight on a Moscow street. After his government passed a law making it a crime to equate Josef Stalin with Adolf Hitler, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged the creation of museums documenting his crimes. A grandson of the dictator filed a libel suit against a newspaper that called Stalin a "bloodthirsty cannibal," but he lost.

Among the last Stalinists in power is Kim Jong Il of North Korea, whose new constitution mysteriously dropped all reference to "communism" but gave him the new title of "supreme leader." The human rights organization Impunity Watch claimed his regime holds 154,000 political prisoners, while a North Korean official told the United Nations Human Rights Council the actual number is zero.

Another old-school communist is Cuba's Raul Castro, who took over the government from brother Fidel three years ago but has maintained his repressive policies. A new law allows the incarceration of dissidents for "dangerousness" before they have committed any crime. When one of them, Alexander Santos Hernandez, was ordered to serve four years in prison, the sentence was dated two days before his trial began.

Such logic would pass muster in Tehran. After opponents charged Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with rigging the June vote to secure re-election, a state agency agreed to recount the votes—well, 10 percent of them—after declaring that no major irregularities had occurred. Protests by the opposition continue six months later, with mourners at the December funeral of a prominent opposition cleric chanting, "Our shame, our shame, our idiot leader!"

There was shame as well in the West African nation of Guinea Bissau. At a stadium rally put on by opponents of the military junta, one officer on the scene said, "They all must be killed. They think there is democracy here." When soldiers were done, hundreds of people had been killed or raped.

Somalia, plagued with civil war and piracy, was called "the worst country on Earth" by The Economist magazine of Britain. Dictator Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, which could contest that distinction, was forced into a tense power-sharing deal with an opponent after losing parliamentary elections last year.

A committee set up to give a $5 million annual prize for African leaders who serve well and then relinquish power found no worthy recipient this year. Calling it "an outstanding example of democracy in Africa," President Obama visited Ghana, which has had five consecutive free elections.

Democracy did not fare so well in Honduras, where the military roused President Manuel Zelaya from his bed at gunpoint and put him on a plane to exile in Costa Rica. He managed to return to Honduras, but not to the presidency.

On Election Day in Afghanistan, the man in charge of one voting station discovered the ballot boxes were full—before the polls opened. Despite rampant fraud, President Hamid Karzai was forced into a runoff. He won by default when his opponent, concluding that a "transparent election is not possible," withdrew.

Iraqi lawmakers approved a new electoral law that will allow balloting in March. If things go well, it will be the first time in Iraq, reported Reuters, "that a fully democratic, full-term parliament hands over to a successor."

Positive developments like that were not as common this year as they were in the glorious days of 1989. But the few that occurred suggest that the important moments in the progress of democracy may not all be in the past.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS.COM

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  1. Good morning everybody!

  2. Reason: Accidentally crushing spirits since 19??…

    Starting the week off right.

    Good morning Suki. Hope Xmachanukwanzaa treated you well.

    1. Thank you Kyle! Our Xmachanukwanzaa was fine, hope yours was well too. Now I get to work a few hundred miles from my place for a few days.

      1. Hopefully it can be a nice break from the norm for you. And if not, at least be over quickly so you can get back home.

        1. Kyle,

          Thank you. This is my norm. Beloved drove back home this AM and I am working, vegging in hotel room or hanging with John enjoying the DC beltway for the next few days.

  3. Nice roundup of the world’s miscreants, but Chapman left out one glaring example of power lust, property theft and slave labor: the United States Congress.

    1. Exactly ed. Congress is currently the number one threat to freedom and liberty in the United States. Bailouts, mandates, massive debt, etc. keep this country moving away from the principles it was founded on.

    2. Is this the hyperbole thread again?

    3. I don’t really think what happened in Honduras was that bad.. I suppose it was anti-democratic, but I think it was probably pro-freedom, since Zelaya was trying to pull a Chavez.

      1. What happened in Honduras was pro-democracy. At least, according to their Constitution, the courts and the military had the authority and the responsibility to remove Zelaya.

        A crucial element of any representative form of government is the rule of law.

        Pity that our current US administration couldn’t support the lawful activities of a fellow democracy.

    4. > Chapman left out one glaring example of power lust, property theft

      He left out two examples, the other being the continuing rise of CIDs/HOAs. (click on my pseudonym above for details)

      Any organization that uses non-judicial foreclosure for trivial reasons should fall under the “property theft” category. They are one of the biggest threats to private property rights in America today for the average homeowner.

      Oh wait, HOAs are private corporations. So they can do no wrong.

    5. > but Chapman left out one glaring example of power lust, property theft

      He left out two examples. The other being the continuing rise of CIDs/HOAs.

      Any organization that can, and does, use non-judicial foreclosure for trivial reasons represents one of the biggest threats to private property rights for the average American homeowner today.

  4. Hugo: “Promise you’ll respect me in the morning?”

    Mahmoud: “Why would I start with you? I screw my country and have no respect for them.”

  5. Are you sure that you want to lump Honduras in with the rest of that mess you listed?

    The President was ‘ousted’ in a legitimate constitutional action after he attempted to rig an election to break the term limits of the constitution.

    Hard to call the legal removal of a wannabe despot an example of Democracy ‘not faring so well’. Of course, I might have been reading about a different ‘coup’ in Honduras than you did.

    1. Your assessment of that story is correct.

    2. That’s the way I remember it too.

      1. That is also how I remember it. Honduras was an outstanding example of democracy and its defense.

        It should also be noted that the orders to the military and subsequent actions defending the Honduran Constitution came from the legislative and judicial bodies that were held by Zelaya’s own party.

        In fact, the only example of democracy not faring well in this case was the United States condemning Honduras’ constitutional actions defending democracy as an “illegal coup.”

  6. Nothing on Hugo?

    1. An article including ALL the tyrants and corrupted governments would be as long as the “Health Care Overhaul” bill. Nobody would want to read that either.

  7. I’m glad I didn’t make that list… not yet. But soon. Don’t want to tip my hand just yet.

  8. Perhaps a more appropriate title:

    “Global Democracy Had Few Blooms”

  9. The “blossoming of democracy” is crucial to the long-term advancement of humanity and it has been advancing steadily for years. The reason for this advancement is not a secret, the GDP of the countries that are becoming democractic has been rising for years and it has hit the critical point that allowed them to become democratic nations. More money for the masses equals more democracy for the country they live in. This year there was a huge recession this year so less money equals less new democracies. If you want more democracy in the world, support free trade which will create more wealth for us all.

  10. There was shame as well in the West African nation of Guinea Bissau. At a stadium rally put on by opponents of the military junta, one officer on the scene said, “They all must be killed. They think there is democracy here.” When soldiers were done, hundreds of people had been killed or raped.

    Guinea-Bissau has plenty of problems itself, but the stadium massacre described in the column took place in the capital of neighboring Guinea (aka Guinea-Conakry).

  11. It’s useful to be reminded every once in while that China is still run by totalitarian thugs no matter how much they and the rest of the world love to do business with each other now.

    1. Obama, Pelosi and Reid are turning into totalitarian thugs too…

      1. Are you serious? Are y- oh, wait, you have a point… but we’re turning into totalitarian thugs for the children.

  12. “Democracy did not fare so well in Honduras, where the military roused President Manuel Zelaya from his bed at gunpoint and put him on a plane to exile in Costa Rica. He managed to return to Honduras, but not to the presidency.”

    Um, the Honduran parliament (unanimously I might add) AND their supreme court removed him from being president. The military merely carried out their orders. I realize that is hard for you to understand, as you live in a country where the military doesn’t have civil duties. But this is well within their powers in Honduras.

    Many countries don’t have a sharp line between police and military, in terms of authority, that we have. For example in the US during the Waco siege, the FBI drove tanks, in most countries it would have been military in the tanks.

  13. As an Illinoisan, I couldn’t help but laugh that the Google ad accompanying this article was for Gov. Pat Quinn. Yeah, I’m sure you’ll find lots of supporters here, Gov’nuh.

  14. What happened in Honduras was a perfect example of how a constitutional republic should work. A Chavez style or “slow-motion” coup was averted by the judiciary and legislative branches of the government using their proper authority to protect the Honduran constitution.
    It bears remembering that a republic is better suited than a democracy to the preservation of liberty.

  15. It is promising that anger and civil disobedience continues to smolder this long after the stolen election in Iran. What is happening there is (hopefully) a step forward for freedom, as soveriegnty can only come from the consent of the governed. If blatant vote fraud caused the Iranian people to view the theocracy as illegitimate it is doomed to someday fall. Even the most vile dictatorship requires the support of some fraction of the populace.

  16. Chapman’s usually a gimlet-eyed observer of the passing scene, but he stepped on his dick with the jeremiad about Honduras.

    1. “he stepped on his dick with the jeremiad about Honduras.” He’s in the wrong business if he can do that.

    2. Wish I had that ability!

      1. Zenmaster, Close your eyes, wish really hard, click your red sparkly shoes together and if you yell ouch: it worked.

  17. Was it Huntington that argued that democratization tends to happen in waves? I think the 1970s and the Soviet collapse are referred to as examples. A less depressing take on world democratization is to say that we’re currently in between two waves. Not that I have any clue as to when the next wave will occur.
    My impression of democratization is that it tends to be a case of ‘two steps forward; one step back’. The quality of governance doesn’t immediately improve as a country becomes more democratic. Democracy tends to pay off big in the long run but not so much in the short and medium run. However, if democracy (and the economy) has been working fairly well, then the public is unlikely to turn on it. This means that, in the long run, we should probably continue to see a slow growth in world freedom. Of course, an expanding global middle class should help as well (Go Go Globalization!).

  18. Steve, Steve, Steve…you were doing so well until you parroted the Obamunist party line about Honduras.

  19. “Democracy did not fare so well in Honduras…”

    And now, your entire article is in question, if you can state something so blatantly backward as this.

  20. Agree with Jim, couldn’t get past the misinformation on Honduras. If you can’t get that basic fact right…..

  21. Good article, one glaring error: Zelaya was not removed by “the military,” he was removed by the other two branches of the constitutional government, in accordance with the constitution, after trying to put his own dictatorial ambitions to a referendum. His successor stepped down and elections were held.

    1. An illegal referendum, btw. His agenda also involved violations of property rights along the lines of what Chavez has done.

      All in all, that one goes firmly in the “victory for freedom” column.

      1. True enough. Democracy doesn’t always equal liberty. Consitutional Democracy might be the better gaurantor of liberty, but that doesn’t mean it works every time all the time. It requires a lot of good faith among a populace to work.

        That’s why I want democracy to be replaced by a series of cold, emotionless super-computers slavishly adhering to their programming that dictates what they can and can’t do for humanity.

  22. Pretty good article, but you fucked up on Honduras. Zelaya was a little dictator thug wannabe and he got his ass spanked pretty appropriately.

    Now the part about him getting exiled was, I have been led to believe, probably the only thing the Hondurans did wrong. Otherwise, it was a lawful removal of a corrupt thug who violated his country’s constitution.

    (As an aside, the fact that the Honduran constitution lacks a formal impeachment process can be seen as a fundamental weakness. While they certainly got the shitbag out, the country nearly collapsed under international pressure. This is one of those times where the world should be thankful for spanish honor.)

  23. It’s obvious the folks at Reason have been in DC too long. The Honduran people thwarted an attempted coup by Zelaya and here you call the Honduran democracy, a military junta and their would-be tyrant, a suffering martyr of freedom. I wish I could say I’m shocked to see Reason side with Obama, Castro, and Chavez, but I know better.

  24. Hey, no mention of the motherfucking scumbags know as the american military and their little murderous wars ?

    Ah yes, the evil chinese are so evil…

  25. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…

  26. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it’s literally a labyrinth, that’s no joke

  27. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…

  28. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it’s literally a labyrinth, that’s no joke

  29. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on..

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