Gold Stars and Demerits in the Struggle for Democracy

Freedom at Issue highlights those who have contributed to the promotion or strengthening of democracy, and those who have set back the cause of freedom.

From time to time, Freedom at Issue will highlight those who have contributed to the promotion or strengthening of democracy, and those who have set back the cause of freedom. Some of the individuals or entities we single out will be obvious choices whose actions have made recent headlines. But others will be drawn from the more obscure corners of the political world.

The following deserve gold stars or demerits for their actions over the past two weeks : 

Gold Stars

  • Two former government leaders have come to the aid of Venezuelan opposition leader and political prisoner Leopoldo López. Felipe González, a former Spanish prime minister (1982–96) and Socialist Workers’ Party leader who played a crucial role in cementing his country’s democratic institutions and bringing it into Europe, volunteered to participate in the legal defense of López and another Venezuelan opposition figure, Antonio Ledezma. González was recently joined by former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995–2002). They are the latest in a growing list of political notables who have called for López’s release, including former Latin American presidents such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Óscar Arias of Costa Rica. What’s needed now is an expression of solidarity with Venezuelan democrats from the region’s current leaders, starting with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff.
  • Incumbent Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan did his country and the region an enormous service on March 31 by quickly conceding defeat following the weekend election. His graceful exit will facilitate Nigeria’s first democratic transfer of power from one party to another. No democracy is complete without this vital feature. Jonathan’s administration was deeply flawed in many ways, and he is leaving his successor, Muhammadu Buhari, with a daunting set of challenges. But any politician’s failures can be judged less harshly when he yields to the correction of the electorate.


  • The Obama administration’s decision last week to resume military aid to Egypt is difficult to fathom, notwithstanding the rules changes that came with it. In the National Security Strategy it released in February, the administration declared that any support it provides to undemocratic regimes “will be balanced with an awareness of the costs of repressive policies for our own security interests and the democratic values by which we live.” Unfortunately, this “awareness” was not enough to halt the flow of arms and money to a regime that was installed through a military coup; that prosecutes victims and witnesses rather than perpetrators of official brutality; that lumps together secular democrats, election-seeking Islamists, and violent extremists as its mortal enemies; and that has recently joined Saudi Arabia in its campaign to enforce a reactionary, autocratic, and sectarian order across the region, whatever the cost to human life. All of this is inimical to democracy, stability, and other U.S. interests, yet Washington stands ready to lend its support. It will not take long for the costs to multiply. One could defend the decision if there were signs that the regime in Cairo was easing its policy of repression. To date, such evidence is lacking.


Photo Credit:  Leopoldo López Mendoza - Preso Político Venezolano. A.Davey (Flickr/Creative Commons)