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Freedom House Declares 2015 the Worst Year in a Decade

By: Rebeca Morla - @RebecaMorla - Jan 27, 2016, 2:43 pm

The year 2015 saw the largest decline in global freedom in the past decade — so asserts human-rights NGO Freedom House in their latest report, “Freedom in the World 2016: Anxious Dictators, Wavering Democracies.”

Each year, the US-based organization evaluates the state of freedom in 195 countries and 15 territories across the globe. By taking into account political rights and civil liberties, they categorize each jurisdiction as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.

In this latest edition, 86 countries (44 percent) were rated as Free, 59 (30 percent) as Partly Free, and 50 (26 percent) as Not Free. That means 72 countries declined in freedom from the previous year, whereas only 43 improved.

Political repression, authoritarian governments, and antidemocratic populist leaders have led to the largest decline in global freedom of the last 10 years. (Freedom House)
Political repression, authoritarian governments, and anti-democratic populist leaders have led to the largest decline in global freedom in the last 10 years. (Freedom House)

According to Arch Puddington, Freedom House’s senior vice president for research, “in many countries with authoritarian governments, the drop in revenues from falling commodity prices led dictators to redouble political repression at home and lash out at perceived foreign enemies.”

The report further states that over the last decade, “105 countries have seen a net decline, and only 61 have experienced a net improvement.”

Corruption, Populism Mar the Americas

The United States remains at the top of the ranking for the Americas, given its high ratings for political rights and civil liberties. However, Freedom House reports that the country did register some issues in 2015, including “certain deficiencies in the electoral system, the influence of private money in election campaigns and the legislative process … the Obama administration’s failure to fulfill promises of enhanced government openness, and fresh evidence of instances of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.” As a result, the report includes the United States in the countries with a downward trend for 2015.

Compared to 2014, the number of countries considered as "Free" in the Americas declined, while the "Partly Free" countries increased slightly. (Freedom House)
Compared to 2014, the number of countries considered as “Free” in the Americas declined, while the “Partly Free” countries increased slightly. Cuba is out on its own as completely “Not Free.” (Freedom House)

In addition, corruption scandals and violence throughout the region also characterized last year, especially in Brazil, with Dilma Rousseff’s involvement in Petrobras’ bribery scandal; Chile, with the corruption case around Michelle Bachelet’s son; and Mexico, whose government has not been able to combat organized crime.

Regarding Cuba, the report reads that despite the resumption of diplomatic relations with the United States, there has been no significant progress toward democratic reforms in the island.

On the other hand, Freedom House alerts that democracy in Central America is in danger. Criminal gangs, political violence, and systemic corruption are some of the major threats to freedom, mainly in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Although Guatemalans forced former President Otto Pérez Molina to resign from power, “observers [of the presidential elections of September 2015] raised concerns about ties between the military and the party of the new president, Jimmy Morales,” the document reads.

In the same vein, the report asserts that “the political and institutional dominance of the ruling Sandinista party” represents the biggest threat to Nicaragua’s democracy. “Nicaragua also suffers from a cozy relationship between political elites and economic enterprise,” it continues.

Hope for Democratic Change in Argentina, Venezuela

Venezuela remains a “cautionary example of authoritarian misrule” in the region, but Freedom House recognizes the opportunity the country now has “to reverse years of democratic and economic decline.” The upbeat appraisal comes on the back of legislative elections held last December, in which the MUD opposition coalition won the two-thirds supermajority in the National Assembly.

The organization also highlights Argentinean President Mauricio Macri’s triumph over Daniel Scioli, former President Cristina Kirchner’s pick, which put an end to more than a decade of Kirchner rule.

“Combined with the Venezuela results, Macri’s victory may be the beginning of a rollback of Latin America’s populist movements, which had previously made impressive gains across the region.”

These electoral victories, says the report, demonstrate the faith the people of these countries have had in democracy, regardless of the “economic collapse and political repression” in Venezuela, and “economic setback and unaccountable government” in Argentina.

Although none of the countries in the Americas were classified among the “worst of the worst,” Venezuela was included in the lists of “countries to watch” in 2016. “Although the opposition triumphed in the legislative elections, it will need a well-crafted strategy to enact reforms in light of possible resistance by President Maduro,” the document reads.

Rebeca Morla Rebeca Morla

Based in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Rebeca Morla works as an editorial assistant with the PanAm Post. She is a political scientist and an Executive Board member of EsLibertad. Follow @RebecaMorla.