More aggressive tactics by authoritarian regimes and an upsurge in terrorist attacks contributed to a disturbing decline in global freedom in 2014. Freedom in the World 2015 found an overall drop in freedom for the ninth consecutive year.
Nearly twice as many countries suffered declines as registered gains—61 to 33—and the number of countries with improvements hit its lowest point since the nine-year erosion began. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a rollback of democratic gains by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s intensified campaign against press freedom and civil society, and further centralization of authority in China were evidence of a growing disdain for democratic standards that was found in nearly all regions of the world.Fortunately, it appears that the Americas are (is?) doing somewhat better than much of the rest of the globe. However, that doesn't mean that last year was a banner year for the region.
In Mexico, public outrage at the authorities’ failure to stem criminal violence and corruption reached a boiling point after the disappearance of 43 politically active students in Guerrero. Protests initially led by the families of the students, who were killed by a criminal gang linked to local officials, grew into mass demonstrations across the country that challenged the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. Organized crime and gang violence also continued to rise in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, leading thousands of citizens to flee to the United States during the year.
A major development in the region was the announcement that the United States and Cuba had agreed to the normalization of relations after a rupture of more than 50 years. Although Cuba is the Americas’ worst-rated country in Freedom in the World, it has shown modest progress over the past several years, with Cubans gaining more rights to establish private businesses and travel abroad. In 2014, Cuba registered improvement for a growth in independent media, most notably the new digital newspaper 14ymedio. While it remains illegal to print and distribute such media, independent journalists have found ways to share their stories online and via data packets that circulate in the black market. As part of the normalization agreement, Cuba released a number of political prisoners, including U.S. contractor Alan Gross. However, the accord included no other human rights stipulations.
The governments of Venezuela and Ecuador continued their pattern of cracking down on the political opposition and other critical voices. Venezuelan authorities responded to opposition-led demonstrations in the spring with particularly repressive measures, including mass arrests, excessive force, and alleged physical abuse of detained protesters.Once again, I contributed to the reports and scores for several of the Central American countries, including those for Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama and Belize. To no one's surprise, freedom deteriorated in Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama in 2014. However, conditions did not deteriorate in a significant enough manner to make the "Notable gains or declines" list where instead one finds Ecuador, Haiti, Mexico, and Venezuela - all in the negative direction.
2015 hasn't started off that great either with deteriorating press freedom and questionable court maneuvering in Guatemala, police/gang violence and a difficult to decipher gang truce in El Salvador, and intensifying allegations of corruption against former president Ricardo Martinelli and his administration in Panama.
The individual country reports come out later this year.