There was only one non-free country in the Americas on Freedom House’s map both last year and 20 years previously: Cuba. We cite this impeccably neutral source in the aftermath of the disagreement yesterday between the Left and Right over the man who made it what it is today, Fidel Castro – the investment-destroying, poverty-boosting, Soviet-supporting, free election-barring, corruption-enhancing, opponent-murdering, dissident-imprisoning, free trade union-quashing, church-persecuting, internet-suppressing, free speech-stifling, gay-killing tyrant, windbag and nuclear war enthusiast whose death was announced yesterday.
Castro clung on in Cuba but was rolled back abroad, when the Soviet system which he relied upon crumbled. So his attempt to project power in Africa failed. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela resembled Castro in his anti-American populism, as did other “pink tide” Latin American leaders, but Cuba remains the only wholly unfree blot on the two continents’ copybook.
There is another lesson to be learned from looking at Freedom House’s 2015 map above, which can be drawn from comparing it to the one that the same organisation issued in 1995. The world now looks less free than it did in the aftermath of the collapse of communism. Yes, there has been some progress – in India, parts of West Africa, and Malaysia. But the northern half of Latin America has shifted from green, the colour that Freedom House uses to highlight free countries, to yellow, the one that it uses to mark those that are only partly at so. Vladimir Putin’s Russia has shifted from yellow to red – the same colour as Cuba – as has much of south-east Asia.
But perhaps the most striking feature of the change is the lack of freedom in most Muslim-majority countries, spreading down from the Middle East into much of northern and eastern Africa. This is doing neither its own Islamic population or anyone else any good, there or further afield. Castro may have lost, but democracy isn’t winning. Does Donald Trump have a practicable plan – or any at all – to turn the tables worldwide?