Freedom House

I was doing some reading this afternoon and decided to search online for human rights violations in Cuba. There was so much information online, it was difficult to find a starting point. It occurred to me to check out Freedom House. I suppose I am that moth who flew too close to the propaganda flames. “Singed a bit, were you?!?” (Cary Elwes to Robin Wright, after crossing the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride). Freedom House is often quoted as a source of non-partisan information about the status of political, media and other freedoms in states across the world.

The website offers this historical perspective: “Freedom House is a clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world. Founded over 60 years ago by Eleanor Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie, and other Americans concerned with the mounting threats to peace and democracy, Freedom House has been a vigorous proponent of democratic values and a steadfast opponent of dictatorships of the far left and the far right.

The website offers detailed reports on every nation and even a series of annual Freedom Maps. Of particular interest to me, however, was the manner in which this non-partisan group dealt with nations like the US, Cuba, Israel and South Africa over time. Lucky for me, Freedom House also has an Excel Spreadsheet with the various freedom ratings for every country since 1972. It seems, “For 1972, South Africa was rated as “White” (2,3 Free) and “Black” (5,6 Not Free).”

Two things here. The racist audacity of printing two ratings for a single country is astounding – even for white folks with presidential connections. I believe Snoop Dogg and the Eastsidaz refer to this as Balls of Steel (audio file – Amazon sample). For Freedom House, there appeared to be two legitimate South Africas. Second: oddly enough, the United States with its COINTELPRO activities, hard core residential and labor discrimination, redlining, property tax biases in public education and disparate incarceration rates received a single rating atop the scales as the most free regime in the world.

In 2005, Israel and the Israel Occupied Territories received separate ratings. Not much has changed at Freedom House in 30 years. Oh, and by the way, Cuba – the regime that sent troops into Angola and beat back the South African army in defense of freedom for black folk received the lowest grades possible – a “7.” At no time since 1972 did South Africa ever receive such a grade. Cuba is certainly not a nation which tolerates dissent; nonetheless, given the volume and scale of US efforts to overthrow Castro and restore the nation to the machinations of a new Batista, this repression has a context. How many dalliances with big business and the mafia can a poor island withstand? As it stands, the greatest criticisms of Cuba today have as much to do with the US constant efforts to usurp the existing regime (and its embargo) as anything else. Political repression and poverty are likely outcomes of resisting Goliath without a slingshot.

Freedom House provides an outstanding platform for moderates and others to engage in propaganda while purporting neutrality. Sometimes, getting clear about someone’s real agenda only requires a little glimpse into their history. Thirty years ago, Freedom House saw fit to affirm the freedom of whites in South Africa and endorse the essence of apartheid by issuing separate ratings for this nation. Today, it does the same thing in Israel. Not much has changed.

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