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.

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