Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dear Fidel: please hurry up and croak already

I realize that I'm in no position to talk, especially considering the nature of my blog, but here goes: I'm starting to get sick of the Fidel Castro deathwatch.

A newly released 10 minute video shows Venezuelan leader (and the world's newest dictator) Hugo Chavez chatting amiably with a red, white and blue tracksuited Fidel, who reportedly looks "heavier" and "healthier" after spending the past six months in the hospital recovering from intestinal surgery last July.

My first thought about this was, "why does it seem like Chavez spends more time in Havana than he does in Caracas?" My second thought is, "hey, wait a second, how old is this footage, anyway?" since the most recent photos look an awful lot like pictures of a red, white and blue tracksuited Fidel taken back in August. The Cuban government classifies news of Fidel's health as a state secret, and given the Communist dictatorship's record on misinformation and propaganda, it's entirely plausible that this "new footage" is old footage meant to stave off concerns that el caudillo may die at any moment. It's even possible he actually is recovering. Who knows at this point?

Not me, and frankly, I'm losing patience with the entire saga. Even if he does recover, does anyone expect that the 80 year old Fidel will take back the reins of power from his only-slightly-less elderly brother, Raúl? Absolutely not.

Cuba failed to take notice when the collapse of the Soviet Union sank all of its other client states, largely because of the personal will of Fidel Castro. It should have, and the dismal state of the Cuban economy, once kept afloat by Soviet sugar subsidies, is in such a dismal condition that Cubans are fleeing to Haiti. You can't buck history forever, and once Fidel's gone, it's a sure bet that whatever regime is left in charge will start dismantling Fidel's dinosaur state piece by piece. They're just waiting, respectfully, for the hero of la revolución to kick the bucket before they do it.

I'm waiting impatiently, too. So Fidel, please - do us all a favor and just croak already so that Cuba may live again. Thanks.

UPDATE: Time is running out, so VOTE for the next Top 10 dictator to be profiled. The polls will be closed next Monday!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Living Large

Suppose you're a dictator of a poor country - a nation with the sixth lowest per capita gross domestic product on earth, to be precise. So how do you unwind when you need a break from the unrelenting poverty and squalor of home?

Easy! You travel to United Nations conferences in New York, and while there, get some rest and relaxation at one of the city's top luxury hotels, relax with a bottle of champagne, and best of all, let some sucker pick up the tab.

Republic of Congo (aka, "Congo Brazzaville") dictator Denis Sassou Nguesso (seen at left embracing French president Jacques Chirac) likes to live the high life, as do we all. Should we really be surprised that during his last trip to New York, the West African dictator ran up a $400,000 hotel bill for himself and his large entourage? Would we also be surprised to learn that he ran up a $295,000 hotel bill in exactly the same way less than a year ago? In a country where more than 70% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, Sassou Nguesso's hotel bill ran into the thousands of dollars per hour. Best of all, the former Marxist leader didn't have to pay a dime out of pocket because the bill was charged to the Republic of Congo's Mission to the United Nations, an organization paid for entirely by foreign aid donations and UN membership fees. In case that doesn't cover it, he's also been lobbying Washington to forgive even more of his nation's debt. Ouch.

Naturally, the president wasn't embarrassed in the slightest, even when World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz put the country's debt forgiveness program on hold after learning that aides to the president forked over more than $200,000 in $100 bills to settle his previous hotel bill. After all, the way Sassou Nguesso sees it: people will forget about his eye popping hotel bills and still demand that the big, rich countries of the earth rescue the poorest countries, and how dare they withhold aid and debt forgiveness over something so trivial? There's a sucker born every minute, and two suckers per minute joining the campaign to keep the Republic of the Congo poor, and Denis Sassou Nguesso well entertained abroad.

North Korean coup rumors denied

South Korean intelligence sources have joined Japanese and Chinese diplomats to deny rumors printed by a Japanese press agency claiming that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is under house arrest while a a military coup is underway in Pyongyang. Citing a South Korean source, Japan's Jiji Press published rumors that the North Korean army has placed the "Dear Leader" under house arrest in one of his many coastal villas while a power struggle rages in the capital.

Rumors of Kim's ouster have surfaced before. In 2004, public manifestations of Kim's previously all invasive personality cult started to disappear without explanation. Yet recently, deification of Kim resumed stronger than ever, again without explanation.

Following North Korea's diplomatically disastrous nuclear tests, Kim finds himself increasingly isolated politically. North Korea's relations with China, formerly a steadfast ally of North Korea, have been seriously strained by Kim's bizarre belligerence towards the west. In addition to crippling United Nations sanctions that have brought the flow of goods over the Chinese border to a near halt, Kim is increasingly turning to bizarre schemes to ward off famine in the countryside while somehow managing to continue paying and arming his soldiers.

Kim is doubtlessly aware that if military leaders lose confidence in his ability to lead, pay and supply North Korea's ludicrously enormous military, he increases the risk of being overthrown in a military coup d'etat. While Chinese power brokers Beijing publicly worry about "instability" in North Korea, there are increasing signs that they are reaching the end of their patience with Kim. The Chinese have made it clear that they are seeking to halt any potential flow of refugees, a de-escalation of tension with the United States and China's major East Asian trading partners, and even re-uniting Korea under South Korean terms.

While the rumors of Kim's ouster do not appear to be accurate this time, it seems that it's only a matter of time before his power is challenged in earnest domestically. State sponsored smuggling and drug trafficking alone will not provide enough hard currency to keep the army from getting restless, meaning that every day that passes without serious purges at the top increases Kim's chance of proving today's baseless rumors to be true tomorrow.

POLL UPDATE: Time is running out to vote for the next dictator to be profiled in depth for my Top 10 dictators list. If you haven't already done so, vote early and often!

Islam Karimov lowers his profile

Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov appears to be doing something unusual for a dictator: lowering his public profile.

Professor Olim Hasanov at UZNEWS reports that formerly ubiquitous billboards with pictures and quotations from President Karimov have been slowly disappearing from public view. Is the wily Central Asian dictator in the middle of a power struggle, or is he simply turning his personality cult down a notch for other reasons? Some suspect a ruse. Hasanov's report quotes an unnamed parliamentarian who put Karimov's disappearing act in some perspective:

"Do you remember what Karimov did in 1991 at our parliamentary session? He said: 'Let me have three months, and you will see what I can do.' And what did he do? He doubled the number of prisons, police and intelligence service offices, tripled their salaries, and increased their powers five fold. He has deprived their people of their last rights, and their last pieces of bread."

There will be a presidential election in Uzbekistan this year, but should he decide to run again, Karimov will certainly win by any means necessary. However, at age 70, Karimov is reaching the point in most dictators lives where they start thinking seriously about passing their titles onto their successors. Is he slowing down? Bowing out? Too soon to tell, but you can be sure that whatever happens will be discussed in detail at the blog (motto: "All Central Asia, All the Time").

Monday, January 29, 2007

Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1959

Miami, Florida's large Cuban-American population is preparing for Fidel Castro's imminent demise - with a party.

The Miami Herald is reporting that preparations are underway for a massive celebration to be held in the 75,000 seat Orange Bowl Stadium to celebrate Fidel Castro kicking the bucket. Event organizers are downplaying the celebration of Fidel croaking, and are playing up the aspect of Cuban liberation. Either way, you can guarantee that this is going to be the event of the century, and that the stadium is going to packed to the rafters with jubilant Cubans, including longtime Cuban exiles, second and third generation Cuban-Americans, and people just looking to get in on the biggest party in America.

UPDATE: CNN bites my style.

Separated at birth

Can you tell which man is Eritrean dictator Isaias Afewerki, and which man is Oprah Winfrey's long time boyfriend Steadman Graham?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Guineans fed up with dictator

The streets of Conakry roiled with rioting as Guineans took to the streets to demand the resignation of their dictator of 23 years, Lansana Conté (seen at left with pigeon).

CNN is reporting that 59 people have died as protesters clashed with the army and police, and that as many as 233 people across the country have been injured.

Prior to seizing power in a 1984 military coup d'etat, Conté was a professor of politics at the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris . Ah. The value of a classical French education. At any rate, one certainly gets the sense that Lansana Conté is in no mood to budge, and that after a proper thrashing, the people of Guinea will return to the unhappy conclusion that their demands for political reform will be ignored, and that they will be stuck with Conté until he finally dies in office, or is overthrown in another military coup. I've been known to be wrong, but West African dictators are certainly among the world's most entrenched.

UPDATE: Conté announced that he will go halfway to meet the rioters political demands, but he won't be stepping down until God removes him.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Which Top 10 dictator should be profiled next?

Since I've started recording this blog's statistics, I came to the pleasantly unexpected realization that people are reading this blog every once in a while. Excellent. Therefore, I will do something out of character for a blog about dictators - open a question up to a vote.

I have compiled my own Top 10 list of dictators (see the sidebar at right), but at present, I have only completed profiles of three of them: Kemal Atatürk, Nicolae Ceauşescu and Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niazov. This means that there are seven dictators on my list who have not been properly profiled - unforgivable! The temptation is to go down the list alphabetically, but where's the fun in that? Therefore, I have created a poll where you, my small handful of readers, can pitch in if they dare, and tell me which dictator should be profiled next.

Stuff the ballot box all you want. Free and fair elections in a dictatorship? Hell no. You're lucky you get ANY sort of election.

Efraín Ríos Montt hits the comeback trail

What's left in life for a retired Central American dictator when he's 81 years old?

Why, running for congress, of course. Former Guatemalan military strongman Efraín Ríos Montt has, like so many dictators in the past year, found that it's hard to get the taste of politics out of your mouth once its acquired. Rios Montt is running for congress at an age when most men are merely grateful to still be alive. Then again, a cynic might note that Rios Montt could be seeking to enjoy the immunity granted to lawmakers in Guatemala.

A graduate of the infamous School of the Americas, Rios Montt seized power in a 1982 coup d'etat, and established himself as the chairman of a military junta. During his two years in office, Rios Montt gained international infamy with his used of a scorched earth campaign against mostly indigenous Marxist rebels. Despite the generous financial support of anxious cold war allies in Washington, Rios Montt was himself deposed in a military coup in 1984. Rios Montt's human rights abuses were so notorious that the 1992 Nobel prize for peace was awarded to a Guatemalan political activist who survived his reign. Rigoberta Menchú's purportedly autobiographical book was chock full of fantasy, but Rios Montt's reputation for human rights abuses was so gross and so blatant that hardly anybody took her to task for her fictions.

Rios Montt emerged to run for president back in 2003, (with completely disastrous consequences), but has found himself largely occupied with threats of prosecution at home and abroad for the human rights abuses committed during his reign, but should he win a congressional seat, he can rest easy.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Manuel Noriega to be freed in September

Prisoner 38699-079 will be resuming use of his real name in 2007.

According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega will be released from a Dade County, Florida prison on September 9, 2007 after completing his sentence on international drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

Noriega, who is now 72 years old, announced his intention to return to Panama to retire, but faces charges in Panama related to various crimes that dictators are wont to while in power, such as a string of murders, "disappearances" of political opponents, and heavy embezzlement. Noriega would hardly rank as a dictator of any merit if his abuses were minor enough for Panamanians to forgive and forget, after all.

Whatever his future, these things are certain: he won't be staying in Miami once he's out, and he's definitely crossed former President George Herbert Walker Bush off his Christmas card list forever (for some reason or other).

Monday, January 22, 2007

Let me start by saying ...

... fuck you too, Hugo Chavez. That's "Meester Greengos, SIR" to you, pal.

This latest boorish outburst is nothing new, however. While Chavez has a history of warm relations with fellow dictators like Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro, he's managed to put himself on nearly everyone else's shitlist - including countries that, previously, enjoyed warm relations with Venezuela.

We all understand that he hates George Bush. Well, fine. So does Arianna Huffington. Nothing new there.

Yet since taking power, Chavez's bizarre comments have caused diplomatic rows with a number of other nations to the point where diplomatic relations have been severely disrupted, and has even led to ambassadors being recalled.

In 2005, Chavez insulted, and then threatened, the Mexican President Vicente Fox, resulting in a recall of both nations' ambassadors.

In May of 2006, Chavez insulted Peruvian Presidential candidate Alan Garcia, calling him a "thief". Peru recalled their ambassador from Caracas, and Venezuela, likewise. brought their ambassador back from Lima. Garcia, predictably, had the last laugh, beating Chavez's proxy candidate Ollanta Humala by a wide margin in a victory credited to Peruvian anger over Venezuelan interference in the elections.

And then there's Chavez's bizarre obsession with Jews. Chavez's state controlled press notoriously issued a number of anti-semitic articles, including one that claimed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a blueprint for Jewish domination of the world, calling Jews "those who killed Christ". It was quickly withdrawn, but not to be outdone, Chavez then issued statements accusing Israel of starting "a new holocaust". The now familiar mutual withdrawal of ambassadors followed. Chavez torpedoed Venezuelan relations with Israel for good by publicly embracing deranged Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad shortly after the latter announced his goal to "wipe Israel from the map".

So ... who does Chavez insult next? South Africa? Estonia? Nauru? Would anyone like to guess?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Chavez still in denial about Fidel

It wasn't so long ago that Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez alleged that rumors of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's imminent demise were untrue.

Well, I think we all know what to expect from Chavez when it comes to the topic of his hero, don't we?

Chavez is starting to change his tune, somewhat, finally acknowledging that the 80 year old Castro is "fighting for his life". Comparing Castro's fight against peritonitis to his more famous struggle against Fulgencio Batista, Chavez declared:

Fidel is in the Sierra Maestra again. He's fighting for his life. We don't know; we want him to recover, and he continues progressing, although slowly.

To date, Chavez is the only one who is saying that Fidel is "progressing", but then again, optimistic lies and hyperbole are a part of any good dictator's handbag, so when Chavez comes out makes this sort of statement, the rest of the world can be assured that Castro will be dead by February.

Friday, January 19, 2007

I say "revolutionary powers", you say "dictatorship"

The single most important element in any dictatorship is the ability to rule by executive decree without the interference of a legislative or judicial counterbalance, even so much as a rubber stamp one. So it comes as no surprise that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (seen at left, with parrot) will be using this ability to put the finishing touch on his leap from merely being a heavy handed autocrat to being a full blown dictator.

Venezuela's rubber stamp parliament will shortly be voting on (and approving) a measure that will grant Chavez the ability to rule by decree, thereby turning Venezuela's legislative and judicial bodies into mere spectators, and removing the last checks on his political power. Chavez claims he requires these "revolutionary powers" to "advance the Bolivarian revolution" This is certainly not the first step Chavez has embarked upon to remake Venezuela into a carbon copy of Fidel Castro's Cuba, but it might be the last one he needs.

This newest step comes on the heels of Chavez pulling the plug on a television network he views as being "hostile to the Bolivarian revolution", consolidated power by merging all the left of center parties into a single pro-Chavez party, and is in the process of re-writing the constitution to eliminate his own term limits. So what does this add up to? Let's review:

  • The virtual elimination of opposition political parties
  • The neutering of a free press
  • No term limits
  • The ability to rule by decree
It is now entirely disingenuous to suggest that Chavez has not given himself dictatorial powers, and even more ludicrous to suggest that he'll stop here. Will there be anyone left to impose any sort of limitations on his political power, or any political opposition powerful enough to slow down the rapid dissolution of democracy in Venezuela? American and European leftists have fallen in love with Chavez, but then again, they don't actually have to live in Venezuela, and wouldn't oppose Chavez even if they did. As predicted, their support for democracy for little brown people overseas has disintegrated, just as long as their dictator is as far to the political left as they are - preferably further.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Chinese propaganda posters

Do you have a deep seated desire to denounce the Gang of Four?

Do you have trouble remembering the Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points of Attention?

Do you wish to let a hundred flowers bloom? A hundred schools of thought contend?

Have you performed a self-criticism for not studying Mao Zedong thought or learning from Comrade Lei Feng?

Are you worried that you might be an enemy of the party, a rightist revisionist or worse, a deviationist?

Worry no longer! Stefan Landsberger's stunning web collection of Chinese Communist Party propaganda posters has you covered, featuring hundreds of Chinese propaganda posters covering every era of modern Chinese history from Mao Zedong's takeover to the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Do yourself a favor, and check them out right here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Spanish newspaper: Castro's condition is "grave"

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro continues to display his downright saucy disregard for dead pool bettors everywhere. Since poor health forced him to transfer his duties to brother Raul in July of 2006, the Cuban government has kept a tight lid on the true condition of their critically ill caudillo. However, information on the planet's longest reigning living dictator can't stay secret forever, and Castro's condition has been a gold mine of leaks and rumors.

Brazilian sources leaked information that Castro was suffering from either stomach or colon cancer - a report echoed by the US government. Cuban officials moved quickly to quash cancer rumors, but new reports have leaked to the Spanish newspaper El Pais that Castro's condition is now "grave", and that the 80 year old Marxist tyrant is finally at the end of the line.

El Pais cites two surgeons at a Madrid hospital (where a Spanish surgeon brought in by the Cubans to work on Castro resides) as the source of new information about Castro's condition, saying that Castro has a "severe infection" related to failed colostomy surgery.

Castro bucked a trend by surviving through 2006, but I will be amazed if he survives until February at this rate. Perhaps I could accelerate the process by finishing my Castro Top 10 list entry; it certainly did the trick for poor old Turkmenbashi. Anyone still taking entries in their dead pool?

UPDATE: Damn, that was fast! The Spanish surgeon who treated Castro denies leaking any information.

UPDATE II: Looks like el capitán de la revolución is responsible for his own turn for the worse. Silly dictator. Leave the medical decisions to the doctors.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Looking past Mugabe

It looks like the end may be nearing for Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.

Fed up with a ruined economy, the director of Zimbabwe's top law enforcement body, Augustine Chihuri, has told Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF party that the state security forces have "had enough" of attempting to enforce the government's bizarre laws attempting to prop up the nations' the nation's centrally planned economy, and he has urged the government to stop relying on the police to solve the nation's economic and political ills.

Considering that Mugabe's government is accustomed to relying on the state security services to strongarm the political opposition, this is a serious rebuke to Mugabe and Zanu PF. And it's coming at a bad time for Mugabe.

Sensing the blood in the water, the sharks are circling. Mugabe's longtime political rival, Edgar Tekere, has rejoined Zanu PF after writing a sensational tell-all book about Mugabe that depicts him as a "weak man" who played a "very marginal" role in Zimbabwe's war of independence. Perhaps emboldened by Tekere's presence, the Zanu PF legislature, which for decades served as a rubber stamp parliament, is starting to rebuff Mugabe. After Mugabe sought a constitutional amendment to extend his six year term by two more years (ruling until 2010), a group Zanu PF MPs started a "Stop Mugabe" campaign, and even more unthinkably, joined a parliamentary coalition with the opposition MDC party to thwart Mugabe's ambitions.

Mugabe could, perhaps, cling to power without the police, or without support from politicians inside his own party, but he cannot hope to get by if he loses both. It could be that Mugabe's age (he'll be 83 in December) is catching up with him, and his rivals sense that he no longer has the vigor to crush his enemies. Perhaps there is also fear that Mugabe's role in the economic and social meltdown in Zimbabwe will lead to the collapse of the state - and their jobs. Perhaps they're just getting prepared for the inevitable day when Mugabe is gone. At any rate, it will take nothing short of a minor miracle for Mugabe to stay in charge for much longer.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Dictators on ice!

Belarusian dictator Alexsandr Lukashenko, known as "the last dictator in Europe", has long known that absolute power is laden with juicy perks. From the mansions, to luxury cars and planes, to champagne and caviar, being at the top of the political food chain is a pretty sweet gig if you can get it.

So it comes as no surprise that Lukashenko, who is a die hard ice hockey fan, will be taking to the ice and joining his own national team in hosting an exhibition tournament series against Sweden.

So how do the Swedes feel about traveling to a Soviet style dictatorship to engage in a sporting event that's being staged for no reason beyond gratifying the ego of a tyrant? Swedish player Kenneth Lundberg summed it up succinctly:

We have just looked at the hockey side of things and left politics aside
Figures. Well, it's a safe bet that the 52 year old Lukashenko will be receiving plenty of protection from his teammates on the ice. Who knows? They may even get an extra state ration of toilet paper if they set him up with an assist for a goal!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Will Germans be able to laugh at Hitler?

Is it too soon for Germans to milk Adolf Hitler for laughs? Not according to the producers of a new German comedy film to be called Mein Fuhrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler. The new movie is the latest step by Germans to tear down self-imposed taboos about portraying Hitler on film (the first being the 2004 film Der Untergang), by showing Hitler as a buffoon who turns to an actor in a Nazi concentration camp for help rallying the public to the war cause, and the comic mischief that follows as a result.

Hitler has been fodder for comedians outside of Germany for quite a while, most memorably in Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" and Mel Brooks' farcical "The Producers", but Germans obviously walk on eggshells when it comes to their notorious tyrant. Of course, it's easy for Americans and Englishmen to laugh at Hitler, but for most Germans, however, the very name conjures shame and self-loathing. They still aren't quite sure how to deal with Hitler's image on film, and most often, they've chosen to avoid him altogether.

On the one hand, it's probably somewhat healthy for Germans to exhale a bit. By imposing such stringent social taboos on portraying, or even talking about, Adolf Hitler, they've managed to make the man's memory a bit larger than life, and worse, this taboo has prevented themselves from dealing honestly on the role of the German public itself in creating and sustaining the "thousand year reich". The film's director, Dani Levy, apparently thinks so, saying:

"I think it's important that we create new pictures of our own, also of the Holocaust and Nazism, and not always work off the old, realistic pictures, because I think that just makes us lazy and tired, and we don't learn anything from it."
Whether or not the rest of Germany is ready for this remains to be seen, of course, but using comedy as a means to address a sensitive social taboo might just be what Germany needs to finally come to grips with the infamous Austrian-born fuhrer once and for all.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Looking back

As Dictators of the World wraps up its first year, what were the hottest trends among the world's autocrats in 2006?


This was the year when a number of former dictators found themselves in prison and/or awaiting trial to account for crimes committed during their time at the top. Among those finding themselves in the lockup were Hossein Mohammed Ershad, Juan Maria Bordaberry, Slobodan Milosevic, and Saddam Hussein. Milosevic and Hussein, of course, met unhappy ends (see photo) after their arrests, with Milosevic dropping dead in a plushy jail cell in the Netherlands, and Saddam, well, just plain dropping to his death. Which leads us to the next hottest trend for 2006.


It has been said that autocrats are a dying breed, and 2006 certainly lent some truth to this observation. Aside from the aforementioned former dictators of Serbia and Iraq, the world rid itself of some notorious tyrants in 2006, such as deposed Paraguayan strongman Alfredo Stroessner, former Chilean brasshat Augusto Pinochet, and Turkmenistan's legendary Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niazov. Of all of this year's dead dictators, only Turkmenbashi kicked the bucket while still in power. Even Fidel Castro, while not quite dead yet, appears to be ready to shuffle off this mortal coil. To think that "President for Life" used to mean something once upon a time.


It's hard to call this a trend, but some dictators are determined to hang in there come hell or high water. Kim Jong-Il, Robert Mugabe, Bashar al-Assad, Aleksandr Lukashenko and the seemingly immortal Omar Bongo among many others have all managed to stay in power for yet one more year. Call it statesmanship, call it devotion to their profession, call it sheer luck, but most of the world's remaining dictators are digging in their claws and attempting to hang on for dear life. After all, wasn't Saddam Hussein considered invincible after his previous confrontations with his enemies? Food for thought.

We don't know what 2007 will bring for the world's dictators yet, but whatever happens, you will certainly be reading about it right here.