From the Left



If History Is of Any Value: Revisiting March 2020, Part IV

Luis Martinez-Fernandez on

My March 2020 column also offered prognostications on the worldwide political and geopolitical repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a rise in authoritarianism, a concomitant erosion of democracy, a spike in civil and human rights violations, intensification of popular protests and the explosion of new wars.

"Liberal democracy," I stated then, "has been the target of unremitting attacks even in the longtime bastions of the United States, Great Britain, and France. The unholy alliance of nationalist and white supremacist masses, populist leaders, and proponents of crony capitalism is on the offensive and likely to gain ground in a context of a prolonged pandemic accompanied by months, if not years, of economic decline." The pandemic, I also wrote, was likely to fire up domestic conflicts and ignite wars.


In 2015, political sociologist Larry Diamond coined the term "democratic recession" to describe the stalling of the worldwide trend toward democratic governance that had begun in the mid-1970s and accelerated after the collapse of the Berlin Wall (1989) followed by the implosion of most communist regimes, including the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations. Democracy indexes published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) since 2006 reflected a stagnant index that hovered around 5.52 between 2006 and 2016. Curiously, it was the world's most democratic regions (North America, Western Europe and Eastern Europe) that experienced sharper democratic decline, while Third World regions remained stagnant or saw modest improvement.


The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) has been tracking mass anti-government protests around the world since 2017, when it registered a total of 31, sparked by a variety of causes ranging from political corruption in Azerbaijan and Russia to farmers' rights in India and France. The number of protests rose sharply to 50 in 2018 and to 64 in 2019.

In 2020 the CEIP reported a major spike in protests with a total of 89, 15 of which were popular responses against government-mandated COVID-19 lockdowns and other restrictions in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Israel and other democratic industrialized nations. In a handful of countries, Brazil and Ecuador, for example, COVID-19 protests targeted inadequate government responses to the pandemic. That was also the year of massive Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in many U.S. cities, as well as in London and Paris, along with numerous popular mobilizations denouncing violence against women and ethnic minorities.

The second year of the pandemic registered a total of 75 protests, 13 of which were related to COVID-19 in countries as diverse as Australia, Mongolia, Paraguay and Tunisia.



During the first and second years of the pandemic, the world has sunk -- to extend Larry Diamond's metaphor -- into a "democratic depression." It was largely the result of ongoing trends exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, used in many countries to justify further assaults against democracy as well as systematic violations of human and civil rights. In 2020 and 2021 governments introduced new legislation and repressive practices to crack down on dissidents and minority groups; persecute journalists; curb the freedoms of expression, association and assembly; and postpone elections.

According to Human Rights Watch, the worldwide erosion of democracy has been particularly evident in "struggling democracies and authoritarian states." The EIU, publisher of yearly Democracy Index reports, reported democratic deterioration in every region of the world and especially negative impact in Latin America.

The Democracy Index reflects a sustained fall in the proportion of the world's population in countries categorized as either democracies or flawed democracies since 2006. In 2008, it dropped below 50% and fell sharply from 48.4% in 2019 to 45.7% in 2021. The number of countries categorized as authoritarian also increased from 54 in 2019 to 57 in 2020 to 59 in 2021. Countries exhibiting the sharpest Democratic index drops (2020 to 2021) included Afghanistan, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Nepal, Guinea, Haiti and Venezuela.

To be continued.


Luis Martinez-Fernandez is the author of "Revolutionary Cuba: A History" and "Key to the New World: A History of Early Colonial Cuba." Readers can reach him at To find out more about Luis Martinez-Fernandez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.

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