Americans tend to be myopic and easily lose focus on events beyond our borders. This is especially true every four years when news coverage centers on the political conventions that choose the major party nominees for President. The stakes are high so we can become immersed in the machinations of power and politics and ignore what is happening in the rest of the world. So, it is fitting in this “between time” (this year it is only a few short days between the Democratic and Republican conventions) that we drop our domestic blinders and review what is happening overseas to determine if these events hold lessons for us.
Let’s begin in Belarus.
As the New York Times reports, on Sunday, the nation experienced its fifteenth day of protests over the 26-year authoritarian rule of Aleksandr Lukashenko, the embattled ruler of Belarus. Since a disputed election on Aug. 9, however, the biggest demonstrations in the country’s history have tested whether Mr. Lukashenko’s iron-fisted suppression of dissent can keep him in power after he claimed a landslide victory that is widely seen as fiction. As many as 100,000 protesters (some claimed the number at more than 200,000) poured into central Minsk, the capital, a powerful show of defiance in a country with only 9.5 million people.
Fans of human rights everywhere were inspired by this outpouring of civil unrest, but to date the US has offered only tepid support for the protesters. Officially, there is fear that if Lukashenko falls, Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked replacement will fill the void; but one wonders if the erosion of human rights as an urgent agenda item in the US is really the cause.
Next, we look at Venezuela.
We can (rightly) complain that the US government has failed miserably in its efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic. And, in our frustration, we might ask: is there any nation in the world where the government’s response has been worse? In a word, the answer is, “Yes, Venezuela.”
The New York Times reports that people who are infected with the virus are being denounced as ‘bioterrorists.’ Neighbors are urged to report them. “In one major city, San Cristóbal, governing party activists are marking the homes of families suspected of having the virus with plaques and threatening them with detention, residents said.”
Doctors and health care experts who question the government’s approach to the pandemic are detained or intimidated. Such tactics may keep more people home, thereby slowing the virus’s spread, but the unintended consequences are that those who are sick refuse to get help—thereby slowing the ability to track and trace the virus.
Finally, let’s take a peek into President Trump’s favorite country, Russia.
There is no real threat to Vladimir Putin’s power in Russia. In fact, a supple legislature has granted him authority to remain in office until 2036. And yet, a German hospital has concluded that Putin’s most famous and persistent critic, Alexey Navalny, has been poisoned. Navalny had become violently ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow and foul play was widely suspected.
After days of delays, he was granted permission to seek specialized toxicological medical attention in Germany and upon his arrival, doctors there determined that he had, in fact, been poisoned. The case is still unfolding, but this incident demonstrates how Putin’s administration will go to silence his critics. Not surprisingly, there has been no word on these events from President Trump.
Although these events are all unrelated, together they form an important cautionary tale for Americans. If we, as many suspect, are in danger of slipping into authoritarian rule in this country, what is happening in Belarus, Venezuela and Russia illustrate the frightening results that such a path can take and how much we really have to lose.