image of a compass
NDI

The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.

News and Views

Commentary from experts on the directions and challenges of democracy assistance programs.

April 9, 2013

Oswaldo Payá’s fight for a democratic Cuba lives on

The Washington Post

The Washington Post editorial board writes that the message of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá that democratic change has not yet come to Cuba lives on, as his daughter Rosa María seeks an international investigation of the car crash that killed him.

“For many Cubans who worked with Mr. Payá, these are dangerous times, as the government continues to repress alternative voices and harass those who demand basic rights. There are signs that some people are shedding their fears, Ms. Payá observed, but it is not because the state has loosened its grip. Ms. Payá and her family have been targets of death threats. ‘We need the international community to pay attention,’ she said, not avert its gaze.”

“For the last few weeks, permitted to travel abroad, Ms. Payá has spoken out courageously in support of her father’s dream of a participatory democracy in Cuba. She has echoed his oft-expressed wish for forgiveness, but Cuba’s future cannot be built on a falsified past or an obliterated truth. The first step is to fully and completely investigate the death of Oswaldo Payá and then to see Cuba toward the new horizon of freedom Mr. Payá envisioned and his daughter so eloquently describes.”

Read More
April 1, 2013

New laws would cripple Egyptian democratic institutions

The Washington Post

While Egypt faces the possibility of economic collapse, the Obama administration and other Western governments are also worried about proposed laws that would stifle democratic progress by regulating Egypt's nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), “the building blocks of democracy” and banning foreign NGOs from the country. The Washington Post editorial board argues that independent Egyptian human rights groups, legal aid societies, women’s groups and others “are essential to ensuring that a free society takes root.”

“In effect, the new rules would destroy most of the country’s independent groups and place those that remained under government control. Together with another proposed law drastically restricting public demonstrations, the effect would be to neuter opposition to Mr. Morsi’s government and eviscerate the democratic regime it has promised to uphold.”

 

Read More
March 29, 2013

The African Century

Foreign Policy

In Foreign Policy, James Traub argues that in Africa, where over the past decade many countries have experienced an economic boom, what distinguishes the successes from the failures is good governance. Though foreign aid has played a role in many of the continent’s advances, Africa’s own economic growth has provided the resources that “have made social advances possible.” Whether many of these African countries have a resource curse or a resource boon will likely depend on the level of transparency and accountability of their governments, rather than the level of foreign aid. Traub noted that corruption “may prove to be the signal struggle of the next generation.”

“The moral of the story is not, ‘There's nothing the West can do,’ but rather, ‘It's not what we thought.’ Virtually all African countries still need aid for both targeted social investments and infrastructure, where in general it lags far behind Asia. But more than aid, they need trade and investment...But states will attract foreign investors only if they improve the investment climate, strengthen the rule of law and reduce corruption -- where the West can help with policy advice, training, and technology. It's not very heroic. ‘We’ -- the West -- cannot make poverty history; only ‘they’ can do that. The good news is that they're doing it.”

Read More
March 27, 2013

On the Brink of Justice in Guatemala

The New York Times

It has been over a week since Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, who led the country in the 1980s, went on trial in Guatemala facing charges of genocide. In a New York Times op-ed, Anita Isaacs argues that the trial gives Guatemala a chance to prove to the world that it has made substantial democratic process, can uphold the rule of law and give indigenous Mayans the same protections, rights and freedoms as the rest of its citizens. Though Mayans have been able to testify, the court proceedings have not allowed them to tell their whole story. Isaacs argues that the real test may come after the verdict, as Mayans who survived atrocities “see the trial as opening up the floodgates of justice.”

“The contours of Guatemala’s democratic future are up for grabs, and the stakes have never been higher. While a failure to convict could be the greatest blow to the rule of law since the genocide itself, success has also never been so close within Guatemala’s reach.”

Read More
March 17, 2013

Who Will Stand Up for Oswaldo Payá?

The Washington Post

Two weeks after Ángel Carromero spoke out about his personal account of the car crash that killed Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, many governments, including Spain and the U.S., have ignored Carromero’s allegations that the Cuban government caused the car crash, jailed Carromero under inhuman conditions and forced him to publicly give a false account of events. When approached, Spain’s foreign minister claimed to have no evidence to support Carromero’s version, despite evidence like photos of the crash site and SMS messages sent from survivors directly after the crash.

“Perhaps the Spanish foreign minister disrespects Carromero enough to conclude that he is lying in spite of all the indications that he is not. Or perhaps he feels compelled to bow to political considerations: the Spanish government’s cultivation of the Castro regime, its gratitude for the release to Spain of several score Cuban political prisoners, its hopes that four Spaniards in Cuban custody will, like Carromero, be freed. Other Western governments desperately want to believe that Raul Castro is a reformer who is slowly liberalizing Cuba.

“All these calculations assume that the possibility that the regime deliberately targeted and killed Payá is ultimately unworthy of international attention; that impunity for such a crime is a regrettable necessity; or that the case says nothing about the Castros’ real intentions. Were they alive, Andrei Sakharov and Oswaldo Payá would surely disagree.”

Read More
March 5, 2013

An Eyewitness to Oswaldo Payá’s Death Speaks Out

The Washington Post

The Washington Post editorial board reflects on the story of Ángel Carromero, who was driving the vehicle in which Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá was killed. Carromero recalls that the controversial crash was caused by a vehicle with government license plates that hit them from behind. However, Carromero says that after the crash, he was detained and forced to deny the Cuban government’s involvement in the crash. He is now back in his home country of Spain and is speaking out about his experience.

“The only proper course of action is to convene an international investigation that can be truly independent and untainted by the Castro regime’s thuggish ways. The legacy of Mr. Payá must be to expose the truth of his death, and to put that truth on display for all to see, especially the people of Cuba, for whom Mr. Payá aspired to nothing less than the right to live free from tyranny.”

Read More
March 1, 2013

Africa's Rocky Road to Democracy

CNN

Since the 1990s, when pro-democracy grassroots organizations in countries across Africa overthrew authoritarian regimes, much political progress has been made on the continent. However, some authoritarian leaders still remain in place, while countries like Mali that have had a history of democratic progress over the years have also shown major backsliding. More recently, the Arab Spring changed the political landscape in North Africa, but some groups worry about newly elected leaders backsliding into undemocratic practices.

“In order to advance the transition to democratic governance in Africa, as well as minimize the chances of regression, each African country must engage all its relevant stakeholder groups in state reconstruction through democratic (i.e., bottom-up, participatory, inclusive and people-driven) constitution making to produce institutional arrangements that adequately constrain civil servants and political elites, enhance the ability of each country's diverse population groups to coexist peacefully, and create economic and political environments that maximize entrepreneurial activities and the creation of wealth.”

Read More
March 1, 2013

Not All Elections Are Worthy of the Name

Foreign Policy

You can’t have a democracy without elections, but that does not mean that all elections are democratic. Authoritarian regimes often use elections as a way to claim legitimacy, rather than to actually further democracy. Elections matter, says Foreign Policy’s Jeffrey Gedmin. He argues that Iran is an example of a country which claims to have a democratically elected government, even as its government uses tactics like monitoring the population, barring international media, and restricting access to the Internet and mobile phones to stifle protests.

Gedmin references a Journal of Democracy essay that suggests that the difference between democratic and authoritarian elections is that democratic elections have: “1) executives and legislatures selected through open, fair and free elections; 2) virtually all adults permitted to vote; 3) political rights and civil liberties, including freedom of press and freedom to criticize the government without fear of reprisal; and 4) elected authorities who are not subject to control by the military or clerical leaders.”

Read More
February 25, 2013

The New Westphalian Web

Foreign Policy

The Westphalian Treaty, signed 365 years ago, created the “framework for our modern world” by establishing sovereignty and setting national borders for European countries. But with the birth of the Internet came global networks of information that went beyond borders, challenging dicatorships and censorship and changing the way people participate in democracies. Now, many countries are increasingly trying to regulate the Internet—which according to the 1966 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace is part of a “realm beyond borders or government”— within their national borders to maintain more control.

“Nearly 365 years ago, those hundred-plus princes and diplomats came together to end war — and in the process, created borders. The Internet broke those borders down, advancing the cause of fundamental rights, free expression, and shared humanity in all its messy glory. Now, to stifle political dissent and in the name of defending national security, governments are putting those borders back up — and in doing so, they're dragging the Internet into ancient history.”

Read More
February 14, 2013

Aftermath of Revolution

The New York Times

The challenges that many Arab Spring countries currently face are similar to those faced by other countries who have gone through major revolutions in the past several decades.

Some revolutions lead to democratic transitions, while others lead to renewed dictatorships, according to Michael Albertus of the University of Chicago and Victor Menaldo of the University of Washington. In this New York Times op-ed, they discuss possible scenarios for countries currently in transition by taking a look at outcomes from other revolutions in recent history. They note that "while democracies that emerge from revolution are typically stable, this does not mean that the transition process is rapid or seamless.”

“As with all revolutions, to remain on a trajectory toward democracy requires continued popular pressure on all those with the capacity to hijack democratic aspirations. This suggests that street protests in these countries are far from over. In the long term, this instability may pay off in the form of democracy.”

Read More