While We Celebrate World Freedom Day, New Walls Encircle Us

EspañolOn November 9, 1989, Berlin’s communist side of the Wall tore down the infamous structure that divided the city and Europe in two: one side democratic and capitalist, and the other Bolshevik and totalitarian. In honor of this momentous event and what it symbolizes, the date is marked on our calendars as World Freedom Day.

On Sunday, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, recognizing it as the moment the Cold War ended and a new era began. Carried away by the induced optimism of the occasion 25 years ago, some went as far as to say the fall signaled the “end of history” within the context of ideological struggles.

Francis Fukuyama belongs to this school of thought, contending that liberalism, at least in the conceptual sense, had finally gained a global foothold. According to Fukuyama, it was only a matter of time before people around the world began living in liberal democracies.

With this in mind, we must ask ourselves: has liberty expanded in the Americas in our time? Is the quality of our democracy getting better?

Due to its abstract nature, freedom is difficult to measure directly. However, we can analyze things like press freedom and economic freedom in different countries throughout the Americas.

Press freedom is an appropriate measuring stick, since those who seek to control the lives and property of citizens often begin by curtailing freedom of speech. An independent press is, in essence, what enables citizens to denounce and report the abuses of their elected officials. Consequently, it is the first thing authoritarians will make disappear.

On the other hand, without economic freedom, political rights become little more than good ideas without basis in reality. If we depend on the good will of the authorities to earn a living each day, how can we expect to criticize them, openly disagree, or speak our minds?

Measuring Freedom in the Americas

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA), a media advocacy organization that brings together more than 1,300 journalists, held its 70th General Assembly from October 17-21 in Santiago, Chile. The assembly noted that press freedom and freedom of expression “faced a sharp decline over the past six months due to a significant increase in direct and indirect censorship, and physical attacks on journalists [throughout America].”

According to the IAPA, government authorities in nearly every country in the region consistently attack journalists while doing their jobs. Such cases are especially common in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru. The IAPA further notes governments have worked to cover up violence against journalists who report live from protest sites, such as Ferguson, Missouri, San Pablo, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The organization also claims increased levels of press censorship in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru adversely affected their respective “fair and legal” elections.

In Ecuador, the Organic Communication Law — which the Ecuadorian Supreme Court declared constitutional — considers information to be a “public service.” As a result, the state controls the media: the Ecuadorian government has already sanctioned 25 news organizations, and forced another four to shut down for good.

In Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro continues to deny print media outlets access to the foreign currency necessary to purchase the supplies they need to print the news. As a result, 30 Venezuelan newspapers continue to struggle to publish their paper, while 12 others have been forced to close.

Meanwhile, government transparency remains conspicuously lacking. In Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and the United States under the Obama administration, authorities continue their “tendency to prohibit government officials from speaking with the press.”

With respect to economic freedom, the situation isn’t much better. The vast majority of countries in the region fell in the 2014 Economic Freedom of the World Index, released annually by the Fraser Institute. The report notes that the health of the US free-market economy, once the global standard, has consistently worsened over the years. A retroactive study shows that, from 1980 to 2000, the United States consistently placed third in global standings, dropping to eighth in 2005, and down to 12th by 2011.

Chile remains the highest ranked country in all of South America, despite dropping two places from the previous year in the index.

Argentina and Venezuela are among the least free economies in the world, according to the Fraser Institute. The index ranks Argentina 149 out of 152, and places Venezuela dead last.

Indeed, there appears to be very little celebrate in the Americas on World Freedom Day. America’s institutions have worsened over time, drifting further away from liberal, democratic ideals.

The fall of the Berlin Wall is worth commemorating. However, we should take care not to lose sight of the new societal walls that are being constructed, and must also be knocked down. The struggle for freedom in the Americas is ongoing, and should not be expected to end any time soon.

Translated by Peter Sacco. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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