Note: This post has been edited (4:00 PM, 12/15) to substitute graphs for lists of numbers. The substance is unchanged.
In deprecating the importance of the capture of Saddam Hussein, Max Sawicky writes:
U.S. political leaders in both parties are quick to laud imaginary progress towards democracy in other countries. It plays to the notion of an inexorable trend based on the shining U.S. example. Actual accountability, given the facts on the ground, is always sloughed off. Has anybody checked on the state of democracy in Panama? I'm not saying it's absent; I wouldn't know. But we invaded the place and a bunch of civilians died. My data here is the extent of utter disinterest in the fate of Panama in the U.S. I can't remember ever seeing a review of the consequences of U.S. intervention.
We call most Latin and South American countries democracies. What is meant is that they are not-Cuba (and lately, not-Venezuela). The fact is that genuine observance of democratic norms is notoriously spotty. The hurdle of democracy is low enough for most any country to jump over it.
I don't link to Sawicky, but this is from today's first post, and I have bold-faced the most interesting part. Just because he "wouldn't know" doesn't mean the rest of us don't. I'm surprised he didn't think to ask the same question about Grenada, which was also invaded by the U.S., just 20 years ago this past October. Both questions are easy enough to answer: it took me about 10 minutes, plus another hour and a half to write this up. This is not the first time Sawicky has depended on others to do his homework for him. Perhaps I should send him a bill.
The best place I know to find information on the progress (and regress) of democracy around the world is Freedom House, which annually rates every country and territory in the world for political rights and civil rights, on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being the best and 7 the worst. To take some examples from the latest chart, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United States, and quite a few other countries rate "1, 1", the best possible rating, while Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a few others rate "7, 7", the worst possible rating. Note that the chart is dated 2000: if they have more up-to-date information somewhere on their site I have not been able to find it. I imagine Afghanistan and Iraq would score at least a little bit better now.
I don't have the information to argue with the Freedom House ratings for (e.g.) Guinea (6-5), Guinea-Bissau (3-5), or Kiribati (1-1), but the ones for more familiar countries seem plausible enough: consider, for instance, China (7-6), Iran (6-6), Egypt (6-5), Haiti (5-5), Jordan (4-4), The Philippines (2-3), Hungary (1-2), and Canada (1-1).
So how do Grenada and Panama rate? They both score 1-2, the same as France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland, Hungary, and Japan, and slightly better than Greece (1-3).
If we compare them to their immediate neighbors, we find that Grenada rates the same as most of the other islands in the vicinity (1-2 or 2-1), though not quite as high as Barbados (1-1), while Panama rates the same as Costa Rica (1-2) and better than El Salvador (2-3), Nicaragua (3-3), Honduras (3-3), or Guatemala (3-4), though not quite as high as Belize (1-1). It appears that the reason we haven't heard much about Grenadan or Panamanian politics lately is that both countries are getting along tolerably well.
What does all this have to do with the U.S. interventions in Grenada and Panama? Freedom House provides historical ratings going back to 1973. A look at the charts is interesting. Scrolling down to bottom half of this one, we see that Grenada's ratings begin in 1974-75 and go like this (my own graph of the Freedom House data):
Notice the huge jump after 1983-84, when a bloody coup was followed (a few days later) by the U.S. intervention or (as some of us prefer to call it) liberation. It takes time to turn a military occupation into a functioning democracy, and I assume the following year's 5-3 reflects a country that was far from independent (hence the 5 for political rights) but already relatively free (3 for civil rights). American intervention seems to have ended several years of increasingly brutal tyranny and brought about a long period of domestic tranquillity and not-quite-perfect democracy.
The chart for Panama shows much the same pattern. As I've mentioned, the Freedom House figures go back to 1972. For Panama (scroll down to bottom half), they go like this (again my own graph of the Freedom House data):
Here we see a much longer period of tyranny, with some ups and downs, preceding American intervention in 1989 and followed by a large immediate improvement, particularly on the civil rights side (4-2), and general gradual improvement after that.
By the way, when Sawicky writes "disinterest", he means 'lack of interest, inattention': I would call it a Freudian slip, attesting to the actual disinterested way in which the U.S. now and then (and not often enough) liberates countries without getting anything material in return*, but it's probably just ignorance.
Finally, giving credit where credit is due, I have to admit that 'Hesiod' has been relatively sensible -- or perhaps just circumspect -- when it comes to criticizing the capture of Saddam. Who would have suspected that? I still won't give him a link, though.
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*If I'm not mistaken, Panama is one of the few Central American countries that have not sent any troops to Iraq. Ungrateful bastards.Posted by Dr. Weevil at December 14, 2003 03:23 PM