Freedom in the World & Mexico's Drop

Freedom House's indispensable "Freedom in the World" survey came out recently, with troubling news for the fifth year in a row. According to the report, 25 countries exhibited "significant declines" in political freedom and civil liberties, with only 11 countries showing strong gains. Particularly, the report tells a story of an increasing consolidation of authoritarian power in the strongest undemocratic countries:

The increasing truculence of the world's most powerful authoritarian regimes has coincided with a growing inability or unwillingness on the part of the world's democracies to meet the authoritarian challenge, with important consequences for the state of global freedom. According to Freedom in the World 2011, the latest edition of Freedom House's annual survey of global political rights and civil liberties, conditions worsened for the fifth consecutive year in 2010. While the decline for the year was less extensive than in some years past, the multiyear spate of backsliding is the longest of its kind since Freedom in the World was first published in 1972, and threatens gains dating to the post-Cold War era in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the former Soviet bloc.

Among the five countries that actually saw their status drop, the most troubling and jarring is our neighbor Mexico, which fell from "free" to "partly free." The fall came because of rising drug violence that has profoundly impacted both citizens and the media:

Mexico suffered a decrease in its political rights rating and a drop from Free to Partly Free status due to the government's inability to stem the wave of violence by drug-trafficking groups in several states. While the country benefited from an important consolidation of democracy during the past decade, government institutions have failed to protect ordinary citizens, journalists, and elected officials from organized crime. Extortion and other racketeering activities have spread, and conditions for the media have deteriorated to the point where editors have significantly altered coverage to avoid repercussions from drug gangs.

In my recently released report on the use of new technologies by Mexican civil society, I look at a few movements and organizations that have taken advantage of social media and mobile technology to wage their own fight against violence.  But it's an uphill battle, particularly for journalists, caught between thugs who have murdered over 60 of their number in the past decade, local governments that fail to prosecute the offenders (and, at worst, are complicit in the crimes), and media companies that often fail to protect their employees. This violence has had an acute chilling effect on press coverage of the violence, and it's unsurprising that these trends showed up in Freedom House's report.

For one bit of encouraging news, Colombia saw improvements in their governance and civil liberties:

Colombia received an upward trend arrow due to an improved equilibrium between the three branches of government and the end of surveillance operations that had targeted both civil society and government figures.

It's a tricky parallel, comparing Colombia of the early '90s to Mexico of today, but there are certainly analogies to be drawn, and it's great to see Colombia moving toward "free."