Saturday, December 9, 2023


We celebrated in a recent event held to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), sponsored by International Solidarity for Human Rights (ISHR) and hosted by Miami Dade College, the extraordinary impact of ISHR’s leaders, Devorah Sasha and Elizabeth Sánchez Vegas, creating educational programs throughout the world and seeking to integrate the very fabric of our paths through life and the arts with the idea of human rights. Countries, communities, organizations, and individuals were bestowed awards as friends and advocates of human rights. As I sat there, listening, I could not help but ask myself the question that leads this essay: why should we care?

Carlos Cruz Diez - The Route to Human Rights:
Article 27, the Right to Culture.
This is not a pointless question. The idea that human rights are important and that we should care about them is relatively new, not a given. Pragmatic politics and strategic geopolitical interests have been cited as reasons to overlook the abuse of human rights in certain regions of the world by powerful nations with capacity to make a difference in the protection of these, fairly novel, rights. Multiple political movements, leaders, even religions, have pursued and created systems in which human rights as we know them are systematically abused and violated in name of “the greater good” of the country and their own version of what society should be like. Are such greater goods and interests valid? Should we turn a blind eye to such abuses in the name of such greater goods and interests, even "sovereignty"? Why not?

The idea of the existence of rights that protect and guarantee the existence of individuals gained traction in the 18th century and seeded the American Declaration of Independence. The likes of Locke and Burke laid the modern foundation upon which liberalism is built, culminating in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The adoption by the U.N. of the UDHR in 1948 was part of the apex of liberal thought and action that came in the aftermath of the allied victory in 1945 over the forces of illiberalism channeled through fascist ideology in World War II (more in my essay: Do Human Rights Matter?). The tide of liberalism that enveloped the world after WWII culminated with the collapse of the Soviet Union and what Fukuyama marked as “the end of history,” predicted by Marx, but with a different outcome than the one which that leading theorist of social communism thought would occur (more in my essay, in Spanish: "El final de la guerra fría").

What is liberalism if not the enshrining of the individual as the motor of society, the economy, and progress? If we believe that progress is beneficial for society (as the development of societies that have embraced liberal doctrine would seem to prove), then the potential of each individual must be protected and enhanced, their human capacity supported, their rights protected. To do so is to foster advancement, productivity, and progress. It is in “the greater good” of society and interests of humankind to do so: protect human rights.

For privileged elites, leaders and rulers it is natural to believe that the system they created, know, and have thrived in is the best possible system. After all, they have achieved success in such a system; no need for change, no need for progress, no need for renewal. In fact, if progress has been made to the detriment of their privilege, it must be stopped and reversed. This is a fundamental paradigm of authoritarian rule and tyrants. Human rights within such a paradigm are an unnecessary luxury. The churn of renewal and progress is anathema to tyranny and even hegemony, so human rights are deemed inconvenient.  Individuals are expendable, power and sway over the masses is what counts. This was true during medieval Europe and is just as true in today’s Russia, China, North Korea, and Venezuela.

That peak of liberalism towards the end of last century generated a backlash from those who believed their privileges were threatened by progress.  We now are living in a world in which authoritarian rule is condoned and even celebrated as much as it was towards the beginning of last century, a dangerous precedent. But the idea that human rights are expendable or inconvenient in order to achieve the greater good is a contradiction and unsustainable for any significant length of time. Leaders, tyrants, even countries are transitory, humanity is not. The improvement of health conditions, the reduction of poverty, the dignity of life, and the fairness of justice can only be achieved when human rights are protected equally. Yes, it is a liberal idea and, yes, it is an idea that leads to progress; but such liberalism and progress have created the greatest standards of living that humanity has known in all of its history and is the only proven system that has the potential to create even greater living conditions for more people around the world.

Why should we care about human rights? Why should we care about breathing? Because of life.

Carlos J. Rangel
December 2023

The author with Elizabeth Sanchez Vegas, President of ISHR

Monday, June 12, 2023


In a few months my forthcoming book "Myths of Our Humanity: Tales from Forever for Today" will be available to the general public. While as the title indicates, the book is intended to have a broader attention span than ephemeral current events, I hope insights into our daily grind can be gleamed from the following advance-copy passages from the Afterword, which seem particularly relevant at this political moment in the U.S.:  


Some time ago I was invited to participate in a political consultancy team working for a presidential candidate in a Latin American country. As is often the case in the region, a broad spectrum of liberal democracy leaning political organizations were pitted against a broad spectrum of populists labeling themselves (or accusing their opponents) of being "nationalists," socialists," or other such names to that effect, depending on the political base they were seeking to sway. It was clear to us, once again, that while populists base their standard story on an easily conveyed narrative of "facts" deeply rooted in emotion with a scant sprinkling of reason, liberal democratic forces typically struggle to convey complex ideas rooted in reason with a light sprinkling of emotion,

This is not only the case in Latin America. It is a normal human tendency to aspire simple order and control rather than complex messiness and uncertainty. Strongmen (not always men) can use the institutions of democracy to achieve and keep political power with a promise to end the uncertainty and restore order. Over the last twenty years we have seen a great illiberal wave sweeping across the globe, a likely reaction to that font of messiness and uncertainty which is democratic liberalism, and which had its peak in the early 90’s —Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” era.

In a previous book I have written about the power of populism, with its own seductive narrative: the promise to redress a heterogeneity of grievances, gathered under a mantle of general malaise, with simple ideas, catchy slogans, and strong, almost iconic symbols, colors and even garments. [1] As a counter narrative, I argued, the promises liberalism can make are attractive when articulated: individual dignity, equal and fair treatment under the law, equal opportunity, and protection of private property--promises which one way or another are often made by all candidates during democratic election campaigns while enjoying local foods, kissing babies, and loving mom and dad.

In that same book, I propose to define liberty as a condition under which a human being has the opportunity to fulfill his or her own potential as such. Liberty is at the essence of free will; it is the ideological core of liberal democracy. In the present book I juxtapose through its collection of "vignettes" liberty against its rival: authoritarianism -- a condition under which human beings survive and thrive dependent on the opportunistic whims of a regime whose ideological core is that power is rightfully and legitimately concentrated in its leader. 

Left and right ideology is purposefully clouded by their adherents as a means tu sustain their political survival and self-preservation. The ideological basis of these factions and their ultimate goals can be traced back to the French Revolution era, where the so-called left championed rights to opportunity, in all its possible manifestations, while the so-called right championed property rights, again, with all its possible implications. A true liberal democracy system seeks to balance the rights of opportunity and those of property to achieve the best possible outcomes for society. In other words, for democracy to exist and thrive, so must the political alternance and permanent creative churn of left and right. 

But the pursuit for ultimate political self-preservation, i.e., achieving and maintaining power at all costs, will lead to other outcomes. Right and left partisans may prefer to heat up antagonistic rhetoric, each faction accusing the other of being the anti-democratic one, the one that "will destroy our country and our values as we know and love them," with the corollary that to protect the essence of the nation the opponents (and eventual dissidents) must be silenced, canceled, eliminated... Polarization ensues, extremism gains ground, and positive social outcomes diminish. ...

It is important to point out that when a subset of these opposing factions engages in truly antidemocratic behavior using their power to subvert norms and institutions, [2] and even incurring in political violence, such behavior is sometimes resisted (heroically) by their own associates and peers instead of (treasonously) collaborated with. But the labels of treason, loyalty, cowardice and bravery are results dependent and, as such, and as they relate to societal transformation, are explored in the fifth vignette, "Petrified." In this manner ... the intention of the book is to explore what makes that messy institutional mechanism we call democracy tick and stick, and the roots it may have in our enduring ancient and familiar tales.          

            [1] "Populism, or the collective blindness which leads people to the abyss," in La Venezuela imposible: Cronicas y reflexiones sobre democracia y libertad (2017), Alexandria Publishing House, Miami, FL.

            [2] For example, by members of the Polish Law and Justice party in 2015, subverting constitutional and political norms to drive democratic institutions and society to the extreme right, or by the Morena coalition trying to do the same in Mexico towards the extreme left in 2022.


This book is a major project I have been working o for several years now hoping it will be of useful interest. It will be published simultaneously in English and Spanish.  



We celebrated in a recent event held to commemorate the 75 th anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaratio...