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Issue 275


[image, unknown] New Internationalist Issue 275

The material that follows has been provided by New Internationalist

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You may be thinking of organizing a military coup and taking over your country. But would this be a good move in the long term? Would you end up in jail or could you look forward to a nice little villa in the sun? This look at the current whereabouts of the world's most notorious former dictators may help you make your decision.

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THEN - Born Saloth Sar, he has preferred since his student days to be known as Pol Pot, which means 'Original Cambodian'. When he rose to power as head of the Khmer Rouge in 1975, he saw himself as grand designer of a new society. The rare photo above (see paper edition) shows a smiling father-figure leading his people into the promised land of an enforced agricultural lifestyle. Virtually all educated people were liquidated and 1.5 million people perished in this holocaust before the Khmer Rouge were ousted by Vietnam's invasion in 1979.

NOW - Pol Pot stays in the background because of his 'unfortunate' international reputation but he is still leader of the Khmer Rouge, which holds large areas of western Cambodia by force of terror. He could yet return to power in Phnom Penh.


THEN - Bokassa served in the French Army for 22 years before seizing power in the Central African Republic in 1965. He suffered from delusions of grandeur that culminated when he crowned himself emperor in 1977 in a ceremony costing $28 million. In 1979 100 students demonstrated against a law requiring them to buy their uniforms in stores owned by the Emperor - and were tortured and killed under his personal supervision. Later that year France could bear his eccentricities no more and deposed him.

NOW - Bokassa took refuge in France. But he was so homesick that he returned home in 1986, where he was tried and found guilty of cannibalism, murder and misappropriating $170 million of public funds. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he was then released in a general amnesty in September 1993. While in prison Bokassa came up with a delusion of a different kind - he now declares himself to be the thirteenth Apostle of Christ. He lives alone in a small three-bedroom house in the capital, Bangui.


THEN - Backed by the CIA and the multinational corporation ITT, General Pinochet led the coup that deposed and killed socialist President Allende in 1973. The military dictatorship that Pinochet then oversaw used torture and extrajudicial execution to maintain its hold while using Chile as a laboratory for the world's first major experiment with monetarism.

NOW - In 1988 a plebiscite refused to extend Pinochet's rule. So he altered the constitution to reduce the powers of the incoming elected President - and left himself head of the armed forces. All the other South American dictators are gone but Pinochet has found the perfect solution: Chile now has the squeaky-clean sheen of democracy yet he still has his finger on the trigger.

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THEN - General Stroessner seized power in Paraguay in 1954. Of German descent, he was a great admirer of Nazism: this showed not only in the refuge he offered to war criminals but also in his ruthless methods. His idea of opposition parties was to appoint their leaders himself. But democratization elsewhere in Latin America in the mid-1980s helped strengthen popular organization and he was finally deposed on 3 February 1989.

NOW - Stroessner took refuge in Brazil, where he still enjoys a quiet but very comfortable retirement in a mansion in the capital, Brasilia. Now 83, he still feels the need of a heavy guard around his house - but old soldiers are used to that. He frequently visits former military comrades to reminisce about the good old days when Brazil was also a dictatorship and gave him its highest military honour. He is fond of fishing - and is a devoted fan of Xuxa, a Barbie-doll lookalike celebrity who hosts children's TV.


THEN - Colonel Mengistu assumed control in 1977 of the military government that had dethroned Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie three years earlier. He was backed by the Soviet Union and followed Stalin's lead in establishing a one-party state and waging all-out war on separatist movements which threatened the 'unity' of the country (and the supremacy of Mengistu's own Amharic people). He was hoist by his own petard, beaten in battle by the Eritreans and Tigrayans.

NOW - Mengistu fled to Harare in 1991, where he has been hosted in some style. But he has run into trouble over his phone bills, which are averaging $4,600 a month and are paid by the Zimbabwean Government. His hosts' patience snapped recently when Mengistu urged Ethiopians to rise up against their new government - with which Zimbabwe has full diplomatic relations. Foreign Minister Nathan Shamyarira told him to shut up. Mengistu should take care in case they extradite him - he is currently on trial in absentia in Addis Ababa for 'crimes against humanity'.


THEN - General Cedras seized power in Haiti in 1991 after the election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He ruled with the rod of iron associated with Haiti's infamous former dictators, the Duvaliers (see 'Baby Doc'): there were at least 4,000 political assassinations and more than 40,000 fled the country in boats for the US. He fled into exile in September 1994 when the US sent an invasion force under the banner of the UN.

NOW - Cedras is now in Panama, the only rival to France as the favourite haven for former dictators - Juan Domingo Peron of Argentina and the Shah of Iran once took refuge there, and Guatemala's Jorge Serrano is a great success as a racehorse owner. Cedras has a penthouse suite in a building called 'The Emperor' in Panama City's wealthy Punta Paitilla area where he jogs each morning on the seafront and where neighbours say they are surprised 'how nice he is'. He is not short of cash: the US State Department alone pays him $5,000 a month in rent for his properties in Haiti. Panama University Professor Miguel Antonio Bernal complains: 'Our country is being used as a wastebasket for the political toxic waste of the world.'


THEN - Amin was probably the most notorious of all Africa's post-independence dictators. His larger-than-life build (he was Uganda's heavyweight boxing champion between 1951 and 1960) and addiction to fatuous pronouncements made him a laughing stock in some quarters of the West in the 1970s. But he was no joke at home - particularly for the 50,000 Asians who were expelled from the country in 1972 or for Jewish people whose land and property he seized in one of his fits of explicitly Hitlerite antisemitism.

NOW - Deposed by an invading Tanzanian army in 1979, Amin and his two wives fled to Saudi Arabia, where he initially cost his hosts, the Saudi Royal family, around $2,000 a day. He now lives a quiet life in a modest villa outside Jeddah, looking after his goats and chickens and cultivating his vegetable garden. Traditional Arab garb has replaced the bemedalled Field Marshal's uniform of his heyday. And his social highlight is meeting other Ugandan exiles for coffee in one of Jeddah's main hotels.

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THEN - François 'Papa Doc' Duvalier ruled Haiti with an iron hand between 1957 and 1971 - with US backing. On his death he passed his title of 'President-for-life' to his son Jean-Claude, by which time Haiti had become the poorest country in the Americas. Baby Doc faced more opposition at home and abroad than his father but ruled for even longer by the same means - savage repression. By the time he was ousted in 1986 it was estimated that his regime had been responsible for 40,000 murders.

NOW - Baby Doc was offered 'temporary asylum' by France, a long-time prop to his regime - he is still there now. He set up house with his wife Michèle and their son in a palatial home on the Riviera, having carried out of Haiti a substantial chunk of a fortune once estimated at $400 million. But life is not quite so sweet now. In 1992 his wife divorced him, taking a goodly slice of his cash (her own tastes are notoriously expensive). Since then Baby Doc has spent what was left of his hoard - he is living now in a seedy, poorly maintained villa in Mougins with his mother. In 1994 his telephone was cut off because he hadn't paid his bill. Tragic, really.


THEN - General Noriega became commander-in-chief of the National Guard in Panama in 1983 and for the next six years was more powerful than the President. He was the kind of ruthless leader the US favoured in the rest of Central America and was even on the CIA payroll. But he fell foul of the US when he failed to support their plan to invade Nicaragua - they withdrew aid and imposed sanctions. The US invaded Panama with 26,000 troops on 20 December 1989: more than 4,000 Panamanians were killed and Noriega was taken prisoner.

NOW - Noriega stood trial in Miami on charges of drug trafficking and was sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment. He is still in a Florida jail contemplating the irony that he was once also the protegé of the US Drug Enforcement Agency. Meanwhile the legal office of the President the US installed in his place was discovered to have connections with 14 companies that had laundered drug money.

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THEN - Singer Imelda Romualdez married Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and enjoyed a famously luxurious lifestyle: the Marcoses salted away billions of dollars in the course of their US-backed rule between 1965 and 1986. Imelda enjoyed the exercise of power too: she was Governor of Metro Manila from 1975 onwards and also, bizarrely, Minister of Ecology. When the couple were eventually deposed by 'people power', invaders of the Presidential Palace came across Imelda's phantasmagoric collection of designer footwear.

NOW - The Marcoses went into exile in Hawaii, where Ferdinand died in 1989. Imelda returned to the Philippines in 1991 and stood unsuccessfully in the Presidential elections of 1992. In 1993 she was sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment for criminal graft and to other long sentences for corruption. She is still free while she appeals and was elected to Congress in May 1995. Meanwhile, in its attempts to recover the lost Marcos billions from Swiss bank accounts and other shadier locations the Philippines Government has, after paying its US lawyers, recovered the princely sum of $2,000.

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996

New Internationalist issue 275 magazine cover This article is from the January 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
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