Elections have traditionally been interpreted as fair and competitive just as long as they were free of blatant fraud on election day. Modern authoritarians took note. Increasingly, they have developed strategies that aim to fix the outcome of political contests weeks, months, or even years before the ballots are cast. Their goal is to win elections while avoiding the brazen acts of vote rigging that inevitably trigger international opprobrium.
During the years after World War II, a phenomenon emerged in several countries of communist Eastern Europe called “anti-Semitism without Jews.” Although the Holocaust had all but annihilated Jewish populations throughout the region, postwar communist regimes exploited lingering anti-Jewish sentiment to divert attention from their failures. Communist leaders would not, of course, refer directly to Jews when they denounced the enemies of socialism. They spoke instead of “cosmopolitan elements,” or used other stock phrases that evoked the notion of Jews as outsiders with suspect loyalties. The fact that few Jews—and no Jewish capitalists—remained in these countries was of little importance. When the leadership encountered difficulties, blaming the Jews remained a tried-and-true means of deflecting public frustrations over the lack of prosperity or freedom. Today, something similar is under way in Latin America, though Jews are not the chosen scapegoat. The pattern in this case could be described as “anti-imperialism without imperialists.”
The spirited exchange at last Thursday's vice presidential debate elevated attention to foreign policy, which will be a dominant theme of the next two debates. President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney have begun to flesh out their views on the challenges America faces abroad, but they have said little about a range of pressing international issues and skirted critical aspects of stories that currently grab the news headlines. In an effort to stimulate deeper debate on U.S. foreign policy, particularly on the future of democracy and human rights around the world, Freedom House has submitted a series of questions to the presidential candidates.
For some time, Latin America was identified as one of the success stories from the wave of democratic development that accompanied the waning years of the Cold War. Over the span of a relatively few years, a region notable for violent insurgencies, military juntas, oligarchies, and caudillo rule underwent a historic transformation that left practically every country with a freely elected government and a civic environment in which an array of liberties were respected. After the democratic upsurge, the lone holdout was Cuba, with its inflexible and increasingly anachronistic Communist dictatorship. Over the past decade, however, the commitment of governments in the region to democratic standards has wavered, in some cases considerably.
At a rally commemorating the ninth anniversary of the electoral victory of her late husband, former president Néstor Kirchner, President Fernández sang the praises of Argentina’s vibrant democracy and political progress. Under the slogan “United and Organized,” her fiery 45-minute speech was enthusiastically received by the estimated 100,000 supporters in attendance. However, most in the Argentine media would beg to differ with their president’s depiction of the current level of democracy in the country. Indeed, contrary to Fernández’s idealistic portrayal, freedom of speech in Argentina is in a dismal state, and is poised to worsen before it improves.