By Armando Chaguaceda
HAVANA TIMES – We are witnessing in unison two events of global significance. The largest protests for racial justice since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, stemming from the murder of African-American George Floyd. And the demonstrations in Hong Kong, in response to the Chinese Communist Party’s passage of a repressive law that seeks to annihilate both civic spaces and civil rights in that region.
These are two different contexts. The United States is a democracy with a vibrant civil society, a dynamic media ecosystem, and political pluralism, beset by the populist and authoritarian tendencies of Trumpism. A republic that harbors—as organizations such as Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have recognized these days—inequalities of all kinds, which structurally impact the way rights are exercised.
Hong Kong is a semi-democratic enclave that is part of continental China, the fruit of an international agreement and the domestic evolution that generated the model of “one country, two systems.” A place where the Beijing offensive for the authoritarian modification of the Hong Kong legal and political system has brought the majority of its population out into the streets in defiance, the largest protest in the world last year.
Sectarian anti-imperialism -a permanent dogma of the anti-liberal left- celebrates the protests in the US as a symptom of a terminal crisis of US democracy, while ignoring the systematic repression occurring within the Bolivarian bloc [Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua] and its international allies.
Vulgar anti-communism -the ideological varnish of the neoconservative movement- subsumes the denunciation of Chinese interference in Hong Kong within its geopolitical dispute with Beijing. However, the latter does not overcome the conspiratorial reductionism that sees, behind any protest in liberal democracies, an oversized protagonism -distinct from the real presence- of the rival autocracies.
Both extremes selectively invoke the protests, to fit their respective political agendas. The demonstrators of Minneapolis or Hong Kong become for them mere chips, in a binary and polarizing dispute where a real commitment with human rights disappears. These, by essence, cannot be selectivity and not integrality in their promotion, defense, or enjoyment. The systematic violation to two basic elements of the human condition -the respect for life and the dignity of its realization- are behind the current protests in the United States and Hong Kong.
Although it is analytically possible -and politically relevant- to differentiate the frameworks offered by democracy and authoritarianism for the exercise of citizenship, in matters of human rights it is ethically impossible to establish such double standards. There are no excusable oppressions; nor are there victims or rights superior to others. Precisely because in the United States the right to have rights is a possibility, the demand for justice must set the bar high for the authorities and actors who violate them.
The structural differences between democracy and dictatorship, related to respect for Human Rights, come to light in the way in which the respective official institutions process the protests.
In the USA, the National Endowment for Democracy, an entity dedicated to the international promotion of the liberal democratic model, has issued a statement (https://www.ned.org/ned-statement-on-racism-and-democracy/) where it recognizes claims for racial justice are fair and legitimate, while rejecting all forms of coercing those rights. The statement clearly takes sides with those who, in civil society and US institutions, have questioned the repressive actions directed from different levels of government, including the Executive.
Could it be that in China the think tanks and official international promotion agencies of the “Chinese model” did something similar in the face of the ongoing repression in Hong Kong? The answer is clear: where the State, Government and Society are hierarchically subordinated to a single party and its personal leadership, such a possibility does not exist.
This does not imply weakness when it comes to confronting, with political realism, the interference of regimes -like the Chinese- that prevent domestic protests while taking advantage of the spaces of democracies for their benefit. As history shows, democratic legitimacy and strength can go hand in hand, at home and abroad, on concrete agendas to make this world safe for freedom, justice, and human dignity.