The Atlas Economic Research Foundation hosted a dinner Wednesday celebrating World Freedom Day. Based in Arlington, Va., this nonprofit helps develop think tanks around the world that advance individual freedom.
Among the faces in the packed room were Donald Smith, co-founder of the Donald & Paula Smith Foundation; Manhattan Institute president Lawrence Mone; Susan Chamberlin, vice president for government affairs at the Cato Institute; Kerry Hardy, development director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies; Richard Ebeling, president of the Foundation for Economic Education; and journalist Deroy Murdock.
David Asman, host of "Forbes on Fox," was master of ceremonies. Among several toasts to freedom were the moving words of Huber Matos, a former schoolteacher and rice grower who spent 20 years in prison for turning against Fidel Castro's revolution. He described a hunger strike that political prisoners enacted in 1968:
After four weeks of starvation in an obscure place, overwhelmed and in a semiconscious state, I began to hear the song of two small birds. I could not see them but I could tell they were sparrows. Maybe they came looking for the crumbs that a former prisoner used to leave them; I wanted to believe they were coming to visit me. When their song sounded intense and happy, I thought it had to be morning, and their melody made me realize that once I had been a free man, who had also loved and sang in freedom.
May this toast to freedom be like the song of those sparrows that gave my life sustenance. May it fly through the seas as a message of solidarity and hope to men and women who have sacrificed their freedom fighting for the rights of others all around the world. May it also be a recognition to the heroism of present-day Cuban political prisoners, among them Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Jorge Luis "Antunez" Perez, Hector Palacios, and the rest of the group of 75.
Jo Kwong, director of institute relations at the Atlas Foundation, presented the inaugural Freda Utley Prize for Advancing Liberty. Ms. Utley fled the Soviet Union after her husband was killed in one of Stalin's gulags. She went on to become an author on totalitarianism and communist regimes. This year's winner was the Association for Liberal Thinking in Turkey, and Bican Sahin was on hand to accept the prize. Other finalists for the prize were Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development in Montenegro, the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Romania, the New Economics School in the Republic of Georgia, and the Unirule Institute in China. Freda Utley's son Jon was in audience with his wife, Ana, and son, William.
That evening, the audience laughed when keynote speaker Mart Laar, a former Estonian prime minister, compared democracy to a tube of toothpaste: "It's easy to let out, but very difficult to put back in." In his closing remarks, Atlas Foundation president Alejandro Chafuen expressed hope that on each upcoming World Freedom Day, more people would be living under freedom.
Hoover Institution senior fellow Larry Diamond recently delivered a lecture at the McGraw-Hill Auditorium titled "Can the Whole World Become Democratic?" that was co-hosted by the Foreign Policy Association and the National Endowment for Democracy. Mr. Diamond said the trend of democracy has been going in a "surprisingly robust direction" over the last 30 years, beginning in April 1974 when Portugal overthrew decades of dictatorship.
He said in 1974 there were only 41 democracies around the world - barely a quarter of all 150 independent states in the world at the time. Of the other 109 nations, 56 that were not democracies in 1974 have since made a transition to democracy. Of those 56, only three are no longer democracies today.
Mr. Diamond, who is the author of "Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq" (Henry Holt), told the audience, "We should never go to war just to promote democracy." Although Mr. Diamond had not been a supporter of the Iraq war, he believes that building a viable democracy there is worthwhile now that Saddam Hussein's regime has been overthrown.