Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Aló Presidente, mi amor!

Good news for my rich, socialist readers: Fidel Castro says he's feeling better every day! Cuba's Eternal Maximum Leader telephoned to say hello to - who else? - Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chávez on the latter's television show, Aló Presidente.

For the first time in over six months, Castro was heard speaking to a live audience, saying that he feels "stronger" and "more energetic", much to the delight of the lovestruck Chávez who cooed, "You don't know how happy we are to hear your voice and know that you're well".

Just when we thought we were out, he keeps pulling us back in! Castro's health is still a state secret in Cuba, and what information leaks out tends to be spotty. Castro's high priced Spanish doctor would only go on the record to deny earlier unconfirmed reports that el jefe has cancer. It seems Castro has declined to divulge the nature of his illness to any Cuban doctors - a wise move considering that so many of them are defecting from Cuba.

Does Fidel's newfound "energy" and "strength" mean that he will be kicking interim president, and younger brother, Raúl back to the curb? Not a chance. Will we continue to see Fidel and Chávez continue their nauseating, prolonged public displays of affection? Bet on that.

UPDATE: "Caramba! It's Fidel!"

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

He's doing what, now?

So what has Vietnamese top dog Nguyễn Minh Triết been up to?

Planting trees. Oh, yeah, that makes sense.

Quoth the president:

Uncle Ho 47 years ago called people all walks of life to take part in a tree-planting festival, which has become a cultural tradition every spring for the Vietnamese people.

Huh. Well, anyway, the good news is that every minute spent playing Johnny Appleseed is one less minute spent purging political enemies, ruining the economy or abusing human rights, so good show President Nguyễn!

Thanks to Tracy for the article, incidentally.

Milosevic vindicated! Sort of. Not really. No.

Have you ever wondered why it is that nobody takes the International Court of Justice seriously? Perhaps this will help.

After 14 years and countless millions of dollars, the judges at the ICJ have finally rendered a verdict on whether or not Serbia was responsible for genocide during the Bosnian war. Ready for this?

Serbia did not commit genocide, but was responsible for failing to stop genocide by the Serbian military.

Got that? Some mysterious, yet very well known, persons - apparently acting in accordance with the Serbian political leadership - permitted genocide to occur in Srebenica, but the Serbian government cannot be held accountable ... except morally! Therefore, Serbia is not obligated to compensate Bosnia with monetary damages, but apparently, is sort of genocidal all the same. Sorta. Kinda. Maybe?

Well, then! Now that the International Community has done its duty, however half-assed, I suppose we can finally let Slobodan Milošević out of jail, secure that his government was NOT responsible for genocide!

D'oh. I guess we can't.

On the plus side, I can't wait to find out who or what the International Court of Justice believes may have been responsible for that mysterious, mighta-been-genocide thingy in Rwanda.

UPDATE: David Luban at Slate reads my mind.

Nursultan Nazarbayev seeks reforms

It's a rare day when dictators voluntarily embark upon legitimate political reforms of any sort, but Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev appears to have made a connection between political freedoms and economic prosperity.

Admittedly, Nazarbayev is skeptical when it comes to political reform. After the ouster of Askar Akayev in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Nazarbayev's initial instincts were to clamp down on the press and political opponents. Yet with the expansion of trade ties with Europe and a warming of diplomatic relations with Washington, it appears that Nazarbayev is relaxing his once iron tight grip on domestic politics.

He's not letting go entirely, however. While his proposed reforms expand the power of the legislative branch, his powers would remain the same, leaving Kazakhstan with an inordinately strong executive branch. A man has to hedge his bets, right? Or as the man himself recently put it:

"The recent experience of our CIS neighbors has demonstrated with all obviousness that democracy cannot be built where citizens do not observe the law and constitutional order, where deep-rooted social chaos reigns."
In other words, the leash will be loosened slowly, and if all goes well, there might be more down the road.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hugo Chávez: Yanquis destroying my economy!

By now, it's a story as old as the hills: a Socialist government takes power and the country goes broke as the state takes control of the economy. What could possibly be at fault here?

Hugo Chávez knows - it's those evil yanquis! Amidst reports that the Venezuelan Bolivar is now the worst performing currency in the entire world, Hugo Chávez predictably lashed out at his implacable foe, the United States, accusing America of planning to destroy the Venezuelan economy. It makes fine political theater, of course, but Chávez should be looking a little closer to home when it comes to apportioning the blame for his country's tanking economy.

After the Chávez government ordered the nationalization of the country's privately owned electricity and telecom sectors, foreign investors started pulling out assets faster than you can say "adios". Chávez's assaults on Venezuela's middle class resulted in a massive rush on the banks as people started converting their Bolivars into dollars - a move that forced Venezuela's central bank to spend billions of dollars to artificially prop up the value of the currency, causing rapid inflation. To reinforce his Socialist credentials, his economic cluelessness didn't stop there. Chávez compounded the central bank's inflationary policies by instituting imbecilic price controls. Surprise! That simply aggravates inflation! Chávez, like his hero Fidel Castro before him, is caught in an economic death spiral, where declining cash reserves and out of control spending have led to an economic free fall with no recovery in sight.

Ironically, the influx of American cash to the state owned petroleum sector is the last real source of hard currency Chávez can rely on - for now. Far from wrecking the Venezuelan economy, the Americans are the only thing keeping it afloat. Of course, Chávez could improve revenues if he stopped giving so much oil away as a political tool, but that's a story for another day.

And the award goes to ...

Well I'll be damned. Forest Whitaker has won an Oscar for his portrayal of the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada in The Last King of Scotland. I believe this is the first time anyone has won an Oscar for their portrayal of a dictator ... but hopefully, it won't be the last. I, for one, hope it opens the floodgates for dozens of dictator bio-pics. After all, if they can make a hundred Marvel Comics movies, why can't they start making quality films about Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong or Saparmurat Niazov? Hop to it, Hollywood!

For what it's worth, I enjoyed The Last King of Scotland, but I certainly found it less compelling than the German film Der Untergang. And while Whitaker's take Idi Amin Dada was enjoyable, Bruno Ganz's performance as Adolf Hitler blew Whitaker's Amin out of the water. Where The Last King of Scotland tries to play Amin for laughs, Ganz goes straight for the gut as the exasperated and desperate Hitler in the waning days of the third reich.

Still, it's hard to go wrong with either movie, and as I've said before, I hope this opens up the floodgates for more to come.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Blogger jailed for insulting Mubarak

A court in Alexandria, Egypt has sentenced a blogger to four years in prison on the charge of "inciting sedition" and "insulting Islam" after prosecutors read posts on his blog that called Al-Azhar university "terrorism university" and described President Hosni Mubarak as a "dictator". The now jailed blogger, Abdel Karem Soliman, knows just as well as everyone else in and outside of Egypt that Hosni Mubarak is a dictator. His only mistake, of course, was saying it in a place where the state's notoriously arbitrary justice system could link it back to him.

Mubarak, who has been the uncontested ruler of Egypt since the 1981 assassination of Egypt's previous dictator Anwar Sadat, can hardly be surprised or insulted by being called a dictator. After spending the past 25 years working as hard as he can to eliminate all political and social opposition to his rule, one would think he'd actually relish being called a "dictator" if only to justify all of the hard work he's put into the task.

Perhaps he's concerned about the "dictator" label affecting Egypt's warm relations with the United States? I can't imagine it. It hasn't exactly hurt Pervez Musharraf, now has it? Rather, it seems to be the insistence of many dictators to eschew the label simply to maintain an illusion that they are so beloved by their subjects that they have been granted a "natural political right" to rule as capriciously as they desire for as long as they live. For that reason, the word "dictator" is perceived as a vulgar reminder that unlimited authority in the hands of one person is, actually, an unnatural and undesirable state of political affairs.

If and when Abdel Kareem Soliman gets out of jail in four years (and from all accounts, jail time in Egypt is nothing to sneeze at - especially for political prisoners), he may be more careful about what he says about religion and politics. More likely, he'll do the sensible thing and just leave Egypt altogether, because Mubarak isn't leaving office until he dies. And like most sensible dictators, he's planned for that occurrence as well. If there's any consolation for Abdel Kareem Soliman, it's that internet usage in Egypt is only likely to increase, and there's no way a creaky police state like Egypt can stick all their fingers in every hole in the dike. At some point, people in Egypt are going to be speaking freely about politics and religion online, even while being denied the same in public, and there's really nothing they can do about it.

Now if only Zimbabwe and North Korea had a blogger community ...

UPDATE: Abdel Karim Soliman's father speaks out ... for his son to be executed!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

"Dear Leader" smashes imperialist rice rockets

In between subjecting the world to nuclear blackmail and celebrating his sixty fifth birthday, the Dear Leader of North Korea finally found some time to address his one of nation's most serious domestic problems: Japanese cars.

Ok, so it's not really a problem, especially in a country where well over 90% of the populace scarcely has enough to buy walking shoes, let alone cars. But Kim no longer likes Japanese cars, and when you're a dictator posing as a demigod, your whim becomes law. The rumor has it that Lil' Kim was enraged after a broken down Japanese car (of unspecified make) was blocking the road on his trip back from his odious father's mausoleum. In a fit of pique, Kim ordered the state's formidable security services to confiscate all Japanese cars in North Korea "except those given as gifts" by Kim himself.

Apparently, Kim's revenge on rice rockets will mostly affect mid-level North Korean bureaucrats, as most upper level bureaucrats (that is, those in Kim's inner circle) drive Mercedes-Benzes. What's more, for the time being, those pesky sanctions have led to crippling gasoline shortages so severe that only those with high level political connections can get enough for normal usage.

The amazing speed with which his order was carried out leads ordinary people outside North Korea to sit in awe of Kim's amazing political powers, and fantasize about what the world would be like if he used them to, say, fix his wrecked economy, dismantle the police state, or coexist peacefully with his neighbors.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.

Even after the December death of Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niazov, it seems that the people of Turkmenistan are still terrified of the state.

In other shocking news, newly "elected" president Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov publicly kissed a copy of the Ruhnama and vowed to strengthen political ties with China. Why, it's almost as if nothing has changed! Were you expecting changes or something? Come on now, people.

On the serious tip, when I asked for more dictator merchandise back in December, I had no idea that Turkmenistan was only to happy to oblige my appalling bad taste.

No, really. You can get it right here. Sign me up for a shirt and a mug, Mr. President!

UPDATE: Damn! Doesn't that apparatchik behind Berdimuhammedov's right shoulder remind you of somebody?

Robert Mugabe turns 83 today.

Today is Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe's 83rd birthday. March 4th will mark the 27th year of his ascendancy to power in Zimbabwe. I already blogged about his lavish party plans last week, so I'll keep this short and sweet: I hope, for Zimbabwe's sake, he'll give his country a birthday present and step down. Permanently.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Omar al-Bashir has played you for fools

Oh sure - we've all seen the news about the Darfur conflict since it began nearly four years ago. Millions of refugees, you say? How awful! Rape, murder and torture? For shame! Government sponsored mass murder? We must stop this!

Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, however, is having the last laugh. Having comfortably called the world's bluff on the Darfur crisis, al-Bashir is successfully gambling that, however appalled foreign leaders and non-governmental organizations claim to be by his government's actions in Darfur, none of them will lift a finger to stop him. Because that might require war, and war is, like, bad and stuff.

Instead, al-Bashir has stalled for time by halfheartedly playing the diplomacy game, making, and then forgetting, 'tentative' peace agreements, knowing all the while that if push comes to shove, he can rest easy knowing that the same "international community" who spends so much time talking about Darfur would never do anything about beyond issuing dozens of sternly worded letters of condemnation, and perhaps, trade sanctions. Not surprisingly, al-Bashir isn't losing any sleep over any of this. In fact, it's hard to believe he isn't enjoying watching them squirm.

The endless faux-diplomacy has also been an excellent way to chew up the clock. While "concerned" United Nations diplomats fly between New York and Khartoum, the government sponsored janjaweed militias are mopping up in Darfur. By the time the world actually resolved to take concrete actions, their job will be completely finished, and al Bashir can wash his hands of the whole affair.

What is more surprising is the way Omar al-Bashir's name is rarely linked to the news about Darfur. As dictator, he is the architect of the war against the rebels - and the population - in Darfur. To date, I have not seen any world leaders suggest that the best chance of stopping the Darfur crisis might be a change in the Sudanese leadership. After all, that might "smack of imperialism" (heaven forfend!) and "complicate diplomatic negotiations".

It's time to get something straight, here. Omar al-Bashir is not afraid of trade sanctions. He's not afraid of the opprobrium of leaders in America or Switzerland. He's not afraid of the United Nations. What he most certainly is afraid of is a powerful nation bringing him to justice by force, and removing him from power. In a way, we can thank Omar al-Bashir for proving the impossibility of trying to stop genocide without using force. You'd think it's a lesson the rich and powerful nations of the world would have learned over a decade ago, but apparently, they haven't. I only hope they can justify why they were willing to let civilians in Darfur make this point for them again.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Welcome to the club, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov.

The December death of Turkmen Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niazov obviously left big shoes to fill. And now they've been filled by the man who "temporarily" took Niazov's place as "interim president" since his death. He's also probably killed his country's narrow window for political, economic and social reform, too.

After a thoroughly crooked, if fitting, election, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov is the new dictator (er, president) of Turkmenistan has been sworn in and officially welcomed to the Central Asian Dictator's Club by fellow member Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan.

While early reports from the ridiculously secretive nation indicated that Berdimuhammedov won the election with 99% of the vote, it appears that the margin of victory was an only slightly less ludicrous 89% of the vote. Even though the outcome was predetermined, the ruling Democratic Party of Turkmenistan clearly didn't feel like taking any chances: all six Presidential candidates were members of the party. Juicy, but obviously unconfirmed, rumors abound that Berdimuhammedov is Turkmenbashi's illegitimate son. Interestingly, while serving as interim president, Berdimuhammedov changed Turkmenistan's constitution to prevent the political participation of Niazov's legitimate son, Myrat. Sibling rivalry? Or just a struggle to keep Junior away from the prize?

Having emerged on top after a brief power struggle and ludicrous election, the consensus opinion is that Berdimuhammedov is in no mood for reversing the economic damage wrought by his predecessor, nor opening Turkmenistan to the world, nor loosening his party's iron grip on power, but rather, that he intends to stay on top for as long as humanly possible.

I know, what a surprise.

Robert Mugabe's Million Dollar Birthday

As Zimbabwe's skyrocketing inflation rate hit nearly 1,600% this week, dictator Robert Mugabe has clearly been working hard on finding a solution to his country's problems. Being a Marxist, and not a particularly bright one at that, he had the brilliant idea of simply printing more Zimbabwean dollars and pumping more currency into a circulation. For some strange reason, that simply makes inflation worse. Then he instituted state price controls with strict enforcement, figuring that surely, this is the key to economic recovery. After all, what possible link could there be between monetary supply, decades of diastrous fiscal policies, and prices?

It appears that "Comrade Bob" has finally stumbled upon a winning strategy for fixing one of the world's worst economies: just tacking on a bunch of zeroes to the banknotes and then moving on to focus on more pressing matters of state.

Starting with figuring out how the state treasury would raise the equivalent of nearly one and a half million US dollars to pay for his 83rd birthday party.

While Zimbabwe's economic and physical infrastructure has completely collapsed, and doctors and teachers earn less in a month than American fast food workers earn in a day, Mugabe has authorized functionaries of the ruling Zanu PF party to raise the money for his birthday celebration. Anyone who claims that Mugabe is unable to prioritize is wrong - they simply don't realize that he has unfailingly selfish priorities. This latest affront to good taste and common sense may be a last hurrah for Mugabe, as rumors abound that the elderly dictator is being nudged out by his own political party.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Parade names top 20 dictators for 2007

It's that time of year again. Parade Magazine, best known as the worthless fluff insert in your Sunday newspaper, has released its top 20 list of dictators for 2007 (viewable here). Without giving too much away, this year's "winner" is the same as last year's winner: Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir - a decision based primarily on his country's notoriety in the ongoing Darfur disaster.

Looking over the list, author David Wallechinsky and I are more or less in agreement over the composition of the top 10. I would quibble with the inclusion of Chinese premier Hu Jintao at #4, as China is a party dictatorship, not a personal one. I might also be inclined to quibble about the choice of Iranian "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at #3. While he is invested "for life" and has sweeping powers at his disposal, the Iranian constitution has offset many of these powers to the President (ie, his loathsome toady, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). I won't quibble that he qualifies as a dictator, but his profile is certainly too low to qualify for the third spot (compare Khamenei's low public profile with that of his predecessor, for example). He belongs on the list, but ahead of Pervez Musharraf and Robert Mugabe?

The final problem is one of omission, perhaps indicative of David Wallechinsky's own politics: the glaring absence of the world's longest reigning dictator, Fidel Castro. Vladimir Putin makes the cut at #20 while Castro is nowhere to be found? Inexplicable. I will give Wallechinsky the benefit of the doubt and assume he did not include Castro because he has temporarily ceded power to his brother, or because he assumes the old man will croak in 2007. Either way, this is not an omission that can easily be explained.

While I look forward to Parade's annual listing, I cannot understand why such an utterly trivial publication is the only place to find this annual round up of the world's top dictators. Given that much, if not most, of the world's international news and crises, involve totalitarian regimes, one would expect weightier publications to publish this list. I also can't figure out why a relative journalistic lightweight like Wallechinsky has taken it upon himself to compile this list, but I suppose someone has to do it.

Conté cracks down, hangs tough.

Any président pour la vie worth his salt knows that it's going to take more than a little civil unrest to get him to leave office.

And so it goes with Guinean dictator Lansana Conté, who has declared a state of emergency following three more days of intense rioting aimed at his ouster. In my previous entry about the unrest in Conakry, I reported that Conté appeared to be meeting some of the political demands of striking unions halfway (short, of course, of stepping down himself). Under this deal, Conté would have offloaded some of his executive powers to the prime minister, but apparently, union leaders felt the minister was too close to Conté politically, and rioting and striking resumed. Conté, clearly, has had enough.

Orders have been given to the heads of the armed forces to take all necessary measures to re-establish public order and protect the people of Guinea from a civil war.
Conté has finally responded by declaring a state of emergency, and has ordered the army to "restore order". At least 15 people have been reported killed since the declaration, as the army has tackled the rioters head on. Obviously, this includes an as yet unreported number of persons missing and arrested.

The real question is: can Conté hang on? Observers say that Conté is seriously ill, and may be dying of complications from diabetes. It also appears he may be grooming the next kleptocrat in chief to take over where he leaves off. Under Conté's mismanagement, Guinea has become one of the poorest countries on earth, with an economy ruined by inflation, primitive physical infrastructure, and rampant official corruption. Even if Conté were to die, or even more unthinkably, step down, it's hard to imagine the quality of life transforming overnight for Guinea.

... but you have to start somewhere.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The lost diaries of Benito Mussolini

Historians are buzzing about the acquisition of the "lost" diaries of the late Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Obviously, there were skeptics, owing in no small part to the row of the now infamous "Hitler diaries".

The authenticity of the newly discovered Mussolini diaries, however, has been verified by an Italian handwriting expert, as well as the dictator's granddaughter, Alessandra who said, "I have no doubts to their authenticity". The diaries were bought from the family of an Italian partisan who was among the force that captured Mussolini in Northern Italy in the waning days of the war.

Among the biggest surprises about their content is how little Il Duce's diaries have to say about politics, dealing mostly with his family life and day to day chores. While offering little political insight into the fascist strongman, his granddaughter believes that they may offer an insight into Mussolini's "psychology".

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Top 10 Profile: Kim Il-Sung

NAME: Kim Il-Sung
BORN: April 12, 1912 (Pyongyang, Japanese occupied Korea)
DIED: July 8, 1994 (Pyongyang, North Korea)
LENGTH OF RULE: (officially) July 27, 1953 - July 8, 1994 (48.9 years)
MEANS OF ASCENT TO POWER: Leader of the Korean Workers' Party
MEANS OF REMOVAL FROM POWER: Died in office of natural causes.
Style: Totalitarian, Police State, Cult of Personality, Stalinist monarchy


Until Fidel Castro managed to live until his 80th birthday, Kim Il-Sung was the longest reigning dictator of the 20th century. The length of his rule notwithstanding, however, Kim's greatest accomplishment is something that eluded even the canniest of dictators: complete deification.

The fact that Kim Il-Sung is now worshiped as something resembling a God in the Communist (and officially atheist) North Korea makes determining his actual biography nearly impossible. The "official" biography provided by the North Korean government states that he was born as Kim Sung Ju to a poor, but ardently nationalist!, family in what is now North Korea.

His family fled Korea to the equally Japanese controlled Manchukuo in 1920, during which time, the young Kim learned about socialism, and joined an anti-Japanese guerrilla army led by the Chinese Communist Party. When the Japanese pushed the guerrillas back, Kim (now using the nom de guerre of "Kim Il-Sung") fled north again, this time to the Soviet Union, and joined the Red Army, eventually rising to the rank of captain. The true extent of Kim's involvement during the fight against the Imperial Japanese Army during the second world war will never be known for sure. To hear the official North Korean line, Kim had nearly beaten Japan single handedly until those meddling Westerners arrived and stole all the glory for imperialist reasons.

What occurred next is well documented, and beyond dispute. After the end of the war, the Soviet Union occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel. A savvy political operator, Kim quickly rose to the top of the Communist Korean Worker's Party - thereby establishing himself as the most powerful Korean Communist in Soviet occupied Korea. After installing Kim as the "Prime Minister" of the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea", Soviet dictator Josef Stalin rewarded his newest client state with generous donations of military hardware, and Soviet military training. Stalin's hints were obvious, and Kim responded predictably.

After the dust settled, Kim Il-Sung became the undisputed "Great Leader", and worked quickly to build an all-encompassing personality cult that established himself as the sole font of knowledge, justice, wisdom and righteousness, not only of Korea, but in the entire history of the world. Eager to differentiate North Korea from other run-of-the-mill Communist dictatorships, Kim announced the development of juche thought. Ostensibly meaning "self-reliance", juche has become an all encompassing political, social, and even quasi-religious philosophy guiding North Korea. The main tenets of juche are devoted to - surprise! - deification of Kim Il-Sung and the supremacy of the North Korean state.

For nearly 50 years, Kim Il-Sung made sure that every single facet of life in North Korea was controlled by the government (and by extension, himself). Kim Il-Sung looked to his former mentor, Josef Stalin, in establishing an all-seeing, all-knowing secret police. Naturally, Kim also demanded the creation of a system of gulags for the punishment of "political crimes". Information was controlled to such an extent, that North Koreans under Kim Il-Sung spent their entire lives believing that their nation was wealthy, and that South Korea was the poorest nation in the world. Radios and televisions were preset to receive only one station and channel, and any distribution of knowledge or information outside official channels was punished with extreme prejudice.

After his death in 1994, his pudgy son Kim Jong-Il assumed control of the ship of state, and picked right up where papa Kim left off, thereby establishing North Korea as the world's first Communist monarchy. Of course, Kim Jong-Il's implementation of juche has not been as "self-reliant" as his father's was, and doubtlessly, the senior Kim would disapprove of his son's half-assed attempts at raising money. Still, the Kim dynasty still has its dimwitted groupies and true believers, a fitting testament to Kim Il-Sung's self-transformation from mere dictator, to eternal demigod.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Poll's closed!

We have a winner! The voting has ended, and North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung has triumphed over François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and Fidel Castro as your choice to be the next Top 10 dictator profiled on Dictators of the World!

Congratulations to all the contestants, and look for the plucky progenitor of juche thought to be profiled in depth this week.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Who's hot? Who's not?

HOT: Hugo Chávez (Venezuela)

He's shut down a television station for opposing him, and Western leftists love it. Ruling by decree? No problemo with the Western left, either. Te amamos, Hugo!

Chávez is so hot right now, he's leaving scorch marks on the Chomsky worshiping, white, middle class, American ZNet fanboys that insist on riding his jock raw. Will 2007 be the year he slips and falls? Will the death of Fidel Castro slow him down? Will he finally stop putting berets on helpless parrots? Hard to say, but for now, the man is on a definite roll.

NOT HOT: General Pervez Musharraf (Pakistan)

Remember when Pakistan was the darling of the West in the heady
days of the start on the war on terror?

It's OK, because Pervez Musharraf is having a hard time remembering, too.

Increasingly embattled at home and distrusted abroad, 2002 must feel like a million years ago to Washington's favorite dictator. Though he has earned praise for making headway in the enervating Kashmir conflict, he appears to be on the losing end of a dangerous domestic power struggle with his own state security services. Derided as "Bush's poodle", he continues to live with the threat of assassination attempts, a persistent problem with poverty, and even natural disasters.

Will he be able to hold on in 2007, or will the ISI depose him? It's probably too soon to tell for sure, but right now, his stock has definitely taken a nosedive.

Cinema Verité

Does time heal all wounds? If this article in The Brunei Times is to be believed, the answer is yes.

The movie The Last King of Scotland (a fictionalized semi-biography of the late Idi Amin Dada) is finally coming to a theater near you in Kampala, Uganda. So how are Ugandans reacting to the prospect of seeing their infamous dictator portrayed on film? If the Brunei Times article is to be believed, Ugandans are eager to see the movie. Even though many are too young to remember a reign of terror which left a body count of an estimated 300,000 of their countrymen, it seems many people are entranced by the depth of Forest Whitaker's preparation for the role, especially his adoption of a Ugandan accent and mannerisms.

Older Ugandans are quoted as remembering Amin's tenure as chaotic and frightening, saying that the constant domestic political conflicts and low-to-medium intensity civil war was "terrifying". One man grudgingly gave the devil his due, however, noting that Amin "did a lot for sport in Uganda ... we did well in the Olympics".

Should Forest Whitaker win the Oscar for best actor, I believe it will be the first portrayal of a dictator to win this award (if I'm wrong, please let me know), and having seen the movie, I can agree that Whitaker's performance as Amin does eerily match Idi Amin's own performance in the infinitely creepy documentary General Idi Amin Dada. So maybe method acting doesn't always suck after all.

REMINDER: You have until Monday to vote for the next dictator to receive a top 10 profile!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Thai paper: "Than Shwe nearing end"

The English language Thai newspaper The Nation has published a report saying that Burmese dictator General Than Shwe may be fighting a losing struggle to stay in power in the nation now known as Myanmar.

Citing sources close to the ruling military junta, the article states that the general has returned from a two week medical stay in Singapore after fears were raised that he developed intestinal cancer. Apparently, the fears of cancer were ungrounded, but the general is reported to be in generally poor health, and has been visibly absent from high profile events, leading to speculation that he is either dying. Even worse, it appears that it appears certain that he's engaged in a life or death power struggle with the junta's number two man, Deputy Senior General Maung Aye.

Than Shwe's ouster may seem positive, but Maung Aye is certainly no reformer himself. The ruling military junta, which seized power in 1990 in a notorious nullified election, has one of the world's worst human rights records, and is rumored to be a partner in the world's largest heroin trafficking trade. Did I mention there's French oil money involved, too?

Relatively unconcerned with foreign trade sanctions, outrage from human rights groups, and general opprobrium, it appears that the military will remain in power after the dust from their internal squabbles clears. Granted, the usual suspects will continue to draft solemn, strongly worded Letters of Concern deploring This or That Hideous Human Rights Abuse, etc., but when it comes down the brass tacks, the Army is more concerned with internal coups than UN disapproval, and no amount of non-violent external pressure will get them to relinquish power, much less restore democracy, after nearly 45 years of military rule. So much for diplomacy.