US democracy group downgrades Peru, Burkina but sees bright spots

Peru and Burkina Faso led a global deterioration in freedom last year but a number of other nations made improvements, giving hope in the fight against authoritarianism, a US democracy research group said Thursday.

In its 50th annual report, Freedom House downgraded both Peru and Burkina Faso on its index of countries and also assessed declines in Russia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Hungary, among others.

Peru, whose political chaos grew last year with the impeachment of president Pedro Castillo after he tried to dissolve Congress and rule by decree, was moved from free to partly free, while Burkina Faso, which endured two coups in 2022, went down to not free.

The report found an overall decline in global freedom led by concerns about freedom of expression, with media coming under pressure in at least 157 countries.

But 2022 also saw bright spots. Colombia and Lesotho were both upgraded to free from partly free and Freedom House saw improvements in nations including Slovenia, Kosovo, Kenya, Malaysia, the Philippines and Zambia.

Colombia saw the election of its first left-wing president, Gustavo Pedro, who has vowed to increase democratic inclusion, while Lesotho elected diamond tycoon Sam Matekane on a platform of transparency and economic reforms in the landlocked African nation.

The 2022 report "documents a continuation of troubling trends, but it also gives some reason to hope that the freedom recession of the past 17 years may be turning a corner," Freedom House president Michael Abramowitz said in a statement.

Latin America is a key frontline, with the opposite shifts in rankings for Colombia and Peru. The report covers the time before the inauguration in Brazil of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who defeated the far-right Jair Bolsonaro.

"For years, Latin America was a stable region, there were relatively high levels of freedom and Cuba as an outlier, until authoritarian consolidation took hold in Venezuela and then in Nicaragua," said Amy Slipowitz, a co-author of the report.

In Peru, she pointed to authoritarian steps taken by former president Alberto Fujimori, who ruled from 1990 to 2000, as a harbinger of recent trends in the country, which has seen six presidents in five years.

"One of the trends we found in the broader global research was that both coups and attempted coups can lead to long-term deterioration down the line," she said, pointing to after-effects of the 2014 military takeover in Thailand and the 2016 attempt to oust Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Freedom House listed Ukraine, which is battling a Russian invasion, as partly free. While judging Ukraine to have democratic elections, it pointed to concerns over corruption and President Volodymyr Zelensky's efforts to control media content with the stated aim of countering Russian propaganda.

India, which boasts of being the world's largest democracy, was listed as partly free for the third straight year after being downgraded over curbs on civil liberties and freedom of expression under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Freedom House is primarily funded by the United States as well as other democratic governments but operates independently.