Summit for Democracy 2023 – “a bad idea that won’t go away”

This article by Dee Knight – member of the DSA International Committee’s Anti-War Subcommittee and the Friends of Socialist China advisory group – casts light on the stunning hypocrisy involved in Biden’s so-called Summit for Democracy, held in the last week of March 2023. Dee points out that, even among friends of the US ruling class, there are very few positive opinions about the Summit, and an increasingly generalized sense that US democracy is going in the losing influence. Dee cites Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador telling the hard truth at the Summit itself: “Many of the great crimes against humanity have been committed… in the name of democracy… In some countries, the oligarchy reigns with the façade of democracy.”

Dee also references a series of documents released by China in the days preceding the Summit, incuding State of Democracy in US: 2022 and the Report on US Human Rights Violations in 2022. These documents highlight the systematic abuse of democracy and the manifold human rights violations committed by the US administration, including the tight correlation between wealth and power; the loss of abortion rights; the extensive use of military force and unilateral sanctions; mass incarceration; the cruel treatment of migrants; and the alarming rise in hate crimes. In such a situation, Dee writes, “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

The author encourages readers to tune in to our Counter-Summit for Democracy.

This article was first carried in LA Progressive.

Positive descriptive terms for this year’s US-sponsored “Summit for Democracy” are scarce. A State Department press release quoted Joe Biden that “we have to prove democracy still works and can improve people’s lives in tangible ways.” That’s “a tough hill to climb,” according to the Washington Post’s March 29 “Today’s Worldview.”

“Critics see the event as an inconsequential talk shop,” the Post said, “or an unwelcome showcase into the inconsistency of US foreign policy on the world stage, as Washington goes to bat for human rights in some contexts and looks the other way in others.”

Some critics were harsher. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said “the summit for democracy is a bad idea that [won’t] go away,” adding that “American democracy is hardly a model for others.”

Le Monde, the French newspaper, wrote recently that 2022 was “a year of doubt for US democracy.” Sweden’s International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance added the US to its “list of regressive democracies.” US democracy is “in a worse state than ever before,” according to The New Yorker, Washington Post, and the Brookings Institution. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reports that American democracy is “declining faster as the inherent ills of American capitalism worsen.”

So much for those who usually defend the US viewpoint. Stronger views are easy to find. Organizers of a Counter-Summit for Democracy say “Biden’s attempts to consolidate a ‘democratic’ alliance are part of the escalating US-led New Cold War. Labelling socialist and anti-imperialist states as ‘authoritarian,’ the US ruling elite seeks to consolidate a military, economic and political bloc on the basis of its own narrow interests, and to build popular support for its rising hostility towards China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and other countries in the crosshairs of imperialism.”

Organizers – Pivot To Peace, Veterans For Peace, Popular Resistance, Friends of Socialist China, and a dozen other groups – say the Counter-Summit “will expose the hegemonic reality behind the US talk of a ‘rules-based world order;’ explore alternative models of democracy; promote an emerging multipolar, multilateral model of international relations; and call for global cooperation to solve the vast problems faced by humanity.” 

Participants include Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report, Vijay Prashad of India’s Tricontinental Institute, Pawel Wargan of the Progressive International, and Venezuela’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Carlos Ron, among others. There will also be voices from China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Korea and Nicaragua.

Mexican President AMLO: ‘Crimes in the name of democracy’

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of Mexico shook up the summit March 29, declaring “Many of the great crimes against humanity have been committed… in the name of democracy.” He added that “in some countries, the oligarchy reigns with the façade of democracy.” He asked, “How can we talk about democracy if there is no separation of economic power and political power?” In many countries he said there is “a mixture of oligarchy and democracy, or a simulated and mediated democracy,” adding that “We must search for greater equality to have more democracy.”

AMLO’s sharp comments follow his March 18 speech condemning US politicians who called for a military invasion of Mexico “to combat drug trafficking.” Speaking to a throng of hundreds of thousands in Mexico City’s “Zócalo” (central plaza), AMLO said “We remind those hypocritical and irresponsible politicians that Mexico is an independent and free country, not a colony or a protectorate of the United States!” He had convened the event to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the 1938 oil nationalization by revolutionary former President Lázaro Cárdenas. He mentioned that he recently re-nationalized Mexico’s oil resources, and its lithium reserves, which may have been a factor in recent US politicians’ invasion threats.

China’s English-language newspaper Global Times editorialized March 28 that the summit is being “used by the Biden administration as a tool to reaffirm US leadership in so-called democracy and human rights. Its ambition to pull more countries into its interest camp to contain its rivals, especially China and Russia.”

Economist Michael Hudson, speaking on Danny Haiphong’s Left Lens video show March 30, called the summit “a charade” that is “pushing the world away.” He pointed to Secretary of State Blinken’s insistence that participants “deplore Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” ignoring the US-backed coup in 2014 that brought fascists to power and ignited a war against Russian speakers in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Last year’s Summit of the Americas hit many sour notes: “Official ‘Americas Summit’ Sags While People’s Summit Surges” (June 3, 2022); “Is the Failure of Biden’s Summit of the Americas a Welcome Event?” (June 8, 2022); “Storms at the Summit of the Americas” (June 12, 2022); “‘Summit of Exclusion’ Backfires on Biden” (June 15, 2022); “Summit of the Americas Flops” (June 22, 2022) – and on and on.

In “Storms at the Summit of the Americas,” Rosa Miriam Elizalde wrote “hypocrisy seems to be the glue of this summit, and mainstream U.S. media and analysts declared the June 6-10 meeting a failure before it even started.”

China responds

China’s ministry of foreign affairs held its own “International Forum on Democracy” in Beijing a week before the US-backed summit. A report in AfricaNews said “Politicians, scholars, and experts in various fields from over 100 countries and regions attended the gathering. It centered on five main themes: democracy and sustainable development, innovation, global governance, diversity, and modernization. Participants said there was no single formula or model for democracy, saying that each country has its own political culture and national needs.”

China Global TV Network (CGTN) broadcast an interview with an African leader who said human rights is more about food, water, land and housing than about voting, especially if voting choices are strictly limited and controlled by big money, as in the USA.

China also released a “State of Democracy in US: 2022” report on March 20, a “Report on US Human Rights Violations in 2022,” and a “call for eliminating racism, racial discrimination” on March 28.

Summarizing its reports, the foreign ministry said “American democracy was in chaos at home and that a trail of havoc and disasters were left behind as the United States peddled and imposed its democracy around the globe.” It added that “Those who have many flaws themselves have little credibility to lecture others,” and that “what our world needs today is not to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs under the guise of democracy.”

At the UN on March 27, a Chinese diplomat “urged relevant countries to take concrete measures for eliminating all forms of racism and racial discrimination to fully protect human rights.” He said “the slave trade and slavery… are among the worst human rights violations in human history,” and that “although the transatlantic slave trade is a thing of the past and slavery has been legally abolished, its legacy is far from over,” and that “Minorities, including those of African descent, still suffer from pervasive discrimination in some parts of the world.”

The report on human rights violations said “US human rights legislation and justice have seen an extreme retrogression, further undermining the basic rights and freedoms of the American people.” It highlighted:

  • Relaxed gun control, with “more than 80,000 people killed or injured by gun violence in 2022.” More than 5,800 children under the age of 18 got injured or killed by shooting in the United States, and the number of school shootings amounted to 302.
  • Cost of elections in the US has soared, with cumulative spending of the 2022 midterm elections more than 16.7 billion US dollars. Billionaires accounted for 15 percent of the federal total. 69 percent of Americans “believe their democracy is at ‘risk of collapse’ and “there is general public disillusionment of American-style democracy.”
  • Hate crimes based on racial bias in the United States increased dramatically. 81 percent of Asian Americans say violence against Asian communities is surging. African Americans are 2.78 times more likely to be killed by police than whites.
  • Women have lost constitutional protections for abortion.
  • The US has carried out military operations in 85 countries in the 21st century, which directly claimed at least 929,000 civilian lives and displaced 38 million people.
  • The United States has imposed more unilateral sanctions than any other country in the world, causing inability of those targeted to provide basic food and medicine.
  • Immigrants face extreme xenophobia and cruel treatment. There were a record high of nearly 2.4 million migrant arrests at the nation’s border in 2022, and the death toll of immigrants at its southern border reached 856, the deadliest in a single year.
  • In 2022, a record 1,239 people died as a result of police violence in the United States.
  • The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world: more than 1.2 million people in state and federal prisons, about 800,000 engaged in forced labor.
  • Fifteen major U.S. cities saw a double-digit growth in hate crimes between 2020 and 2021, and an increase of about 5 percent in bias-motivated incidents till August 2022; one in six Asian Americans nationwide experienced race-based violence in 2021.
  • The nation sees a widening wealth gap, worsening living conditions for low-income groups, increasing homeless people, life-threatening drug abuse, and dropping average life expectancy. U.S. underclass is facing a severe survival crisis.

Glass Houses

Laura Thornton said on National Public Radio March 28 “it’s almost became like the U.S. government was bouncers at the nightclub of democracy ‒ like, determining who could be in and who could be out ‒ when I think, you know, most of us know that democracy exists. Democrats exist everywhere. Authoritarians exist everywhere.

She might have added: people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

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