Steve Chapman

Thailand's army accompanied a coup with an announcement: "We apologize for the inconvenience." The generals also promised that within two weeks, "we are gone." Three months later, they're not. Though China was already unfree, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth says it "took a few steps backward."

Things looked better in Latin America. Mexicans narrowly elected Felipe Calderon to the presidency, but opponent Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador claimed fraud and carried out a self-styled inauguration ceremony -- though polls indicated that 85 percent of Mexicans accepted Calderon as the rightful victor. Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, loser of two presidential elections since being evicted by the voters in 1990, finally won by getting 38 percent of the vote -- less than in his original defeat.

Chileans witnessed the death of a despot, Augusto Pinochet, who let himself be voted out of office, while Cubans waited for the death of a seriously ill one, Fidel Castro, who didn't. Castro continued to serve as an inspiration to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who used his successful re-election campaign to warn critics, "There is no room in Venezuela for any project other than the Bolivarian revolution."

More than three years into the war in the Darfur region of Sudan, where more than 200,000 people have died, the United Nations approved the deployment of a peacekeeping force, which was promptly vetoed by the Sudanese government. After 45 years, the Democratic Republic of Congo finally held a democratic election for president. The winner was incumbent Joseph Kabila, who like his father before him had previously ruled without popular consent.

To encourage reforms, a Sudanese cell phone billionaire offered a prize of $5 million, plus a $200,000 annual stipend for life, to African rulers who gain power democratically and hand it over on schedule to an elected successor. An adviser admitted the prize may not be awarded every year.

President Bush, looking for an acceptable euphemism for developments in Iraq, said the other day that "we're not succeeding nearly as fast as I wanted." When it came to the spread of democracy and liberty in the world this year, no one would say we are succeeding too fast.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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