Friday, March 30, 2007

Neighbors "at one" with Mugabe

What on earth were people expecting?

The buzz leading up to today's meeting of the South African Development Community (SADC) centered around "what are Zimbabwe's neighbors going to do about Robert Mugabe and his demolition of Zimbabwe"?

For weeks, western governments and eminent personalities such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu have been requesting, nay, demanding that Mugabe's neighbors work together to bring an end to the seemingly interminable crisis in Zimbabwe. So again, what would the response from Mugabe's neighbors be now that the eyes of the world are fixed squarely on them?

Frankly, I find it nothing short of appalling that otherwise sensible journalists and media pundits would even frame this as a "question". Where the hell have they been for the past 20 years? Anyone who has a shred of sense could have told you the obvious answer in advance:


That's right - nothing. After the summit, all 14 leaders issued a statement pledging support for and solidarity with Robert Mugabe. No matter how disastrous Mugabe's misrule, no matter how dismal the human rights situation is, no matter how low the life expectancy drops, no matter how high the inflation or unemployment, there's not a single thing Mugabe's peers will say, much less do, about it.

Back when African summits were regularly derided as "meetings of the dictators' club", it was considered bad form for one dictator to denounce another dictator for, well, being a dictator. Since then, African nations have made considerable progress replacing some of the old "big man" dictatorships with more democratic governments. However, the buzzwords "democracy", "accountability", and "African solutions to African problems" are fine sentiments, but to date, completely meaningless when dealing with problems like Robert Mugabe. Just as in the days of the dictator club, African leaders are loathe to criticize someone like Mugabe, who was, after all, a hero of Zimbabwe's war of independence and a crucial ally in the anti-apartheid struggle.

South African president Thabo Mbeki is one such leader who owes his career to the leaders of South Africa's neighbors, like Mugabe. Dictators like Mugabe, who provided political assistance to the African National Congress, and military assistance to the party's military wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe, were thousands of times more valuable to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa than anything anyone outside Africa did for South Africa. Old comrades stick together, right? And after all, if anyone starts putting pressure on Mugabe, might people start talking about the lack of political freedoms in their countries? They certainly don't want to see that trend taking off.

Right. So when Thabo Mbeki assured the world that it was engaged in "quiet diplomacy" with Mugabe, it was because saying "frankly, we're friendly with Robert Mugabe and want to keep it that way" doesn't play well in the international press. After all, the new democratic South Africa might actually have a moral obligation to provide leadership in the region, right? I can see why Mbeki might want to nip that sort of heavy political responsibility in the bud before the world expects to rely on South Africa to play a role proportional to their economic and political influence to assist Africa's transition from dictatorships to democracy.

Of course, it's somewhat unfair to single out Mugabe's neighbors for their inaction when the rest of the world can't be bothered to do anything except issue a constant stream of self-righteous indignation. As the Rwandan genocide proved, a non-stop stream of indignant condemnations by the powerful will alleviate some of the guilt over doing nothing to stop the problem in the first place. Even when the catastrophe has burned itself out, and people start pointing the finger at you for doing nothing, you can shrug your shoulders and hastily respond that you had only the best of intentions all along.

UPDATE: I don't imagine this surprises anyone, either.

UPDATE II: Thank you, Joshua Wanyama, for linking to this article, and welcome African Path readers!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Si Fueris Romae, Romano Vivito More

The title of this entry, "si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more" translates as to "if in Rome, live in the Roman manner", but most people forget the rest of the original Latin aphorism: "si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi" which means, "if you are elsewhere, live as they do elsewhere".

Which brings us to the tragicomic story of 57 year old Oliver Jufer, a Swiss expat who has spent the last ten years of his life in Thailand. After a savage bender, Herr Jufer got busted by the police in Chiang Mai for spraypainting over public portraits of the King of Thailand, HRH Bhumibol Adulyadej. When Jufer sobered up, he found himself facing five counts of lèse majesté. If convicted, Jufer faced up to twenty years in a Thai prison, so when he came to his senses, he sensibly came to a plea agreement whereby his sentence was reduced to 10 years after admitting guilt. In Thailand the idea that someone could criticize (much less insult) the king is regarded as an unthinkably offensive, and criminal act.

Now, before we begin, let me say that I do not regard his royal highness a dictator in the regular sense of the word, lacking, as he does, unlimited political powers in any legally defined way. He has not usurped authority from legitimately elected leaders, and in fact, he has been the only political force capable of maintaining what little legitimate political stability Thailand has enjoyed in the past 100 years. Thais have a genuine love and respect for their king that any tyrant on earth can only envy from afar.

What I'm trying to get at is that I have been somewhat remiss about covering those handful of dictators who rule as monarchs, benevolent or otherwise. Should Mswati III of Swaziland be lumped in with the likes of Turkmenbashi? Is Jigme Wangchuk of of Bhutan a dictator in the same sense as Robert Mugabe, even though his majesty has even greater political powers than Mugabe does? Why is it we can regard Oliver Jufer as a boorish criminal for spray painting over a portrait of the king, but we regain our sense of outrage when North Korea punishes people for political statements deemed insulting to the Dear Leader? What's the practical difference between an absolute monarch and a dictator beyond political legitimacy?

UPDATE: His royal highness has pardoned Oliver Jufer, as had been expected. The pardon comes with a catch: Jufer has to leave Thailand. I would imagine this is for his own safety, given the way Thais feel about their king.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Chávez going for broke

Hugo Chávez has a problem. An extremely serious problem: if the price of oil is over $60 a barrel, why is the state owned oil company having so much trouble?

In an attempt to keep up with Chávez's demands for steady cash, PDVSA has found itself handing over more and more cash to the state, and exporting more and more free or "discounted" oil for Chávez to use as a diplomatic tool. What's more, Chávez's recent fetish for nationalization has crippled the amount of foreign investment revenue in PDVSA. This equates even less money available to invest in new fields, new equipment, or more ominously for Venezuela, less money for keeping PDVSA's increasingly expensive current operations running at, much less above, current capacity. As a result, production has dropped dramatically as Chávez's spending has gone up.

As oil fields age, more and more money is required to keep them running smoothly. Without this money, the cost involved in extraction begins to exceed the market price for oil. This would be a problem in any oil operation from Kuwait to Brunei, but this is especially problematic for Venezuelan crude, which is notoriously expensive to process. Unless the state allocates sufficient funds to reinvest in PDVSA, he will be in serious danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

Chávez has treated PDVSA as a private state piggy bank for so long, he's starting to forget that even high demand for oil will not mitigate the economic (and political) mismanagement of PDVSA forever.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

No Mo' Joe

What's the first thing that would come to mind if you'd heard that the mayor of Jerusalem used the image of Adolf Hitler in an anti-littering campaign? It would probably be along the lines of has he lost his fucking mind?

So you can imagine the reaction of many Ukrainians when officials of Ukrainian city of Donetsk dusted off the image of Josef Stalin for use in a series of public service announcements aimed at getting residents to pay off their delinquent utility bills. One television ad showed grainy black and white footage of Koba with an overdubbed voice howling "Those who don't pay for their heat should be PUNISHED!" to the thunderous applause of a sycophantic Politburo.

First of all, the use of dictators for marketing purposes, while not new, is fairly stupid by any measure. The use of dictators in advertising becomes even more loathsome when the targeted audience is the exact same one that suffered most because of the dictator in question. This advertising campaign would merely be stupid in Russia or Georgia, but it transforms into an affront of monumentally bad taste in the Ukraine. You don't even have to go back too far in the history of Donetsk itself to get into Uncle Joe's legacy, as the city itself was once renamed "Stalino" by Stalinist toadies, even as Stalin was tightening the screws on the Ukraine.

So what did Donetsk's municipal utility company have to say about their ill conceived ad campaign?

"Stalin is used here not as a historical personality, but more as a symbol of inevitable punishment. Failure to pay for one's services is a serious wrongdoing."

Oh, why didn't you just say so in the first place? No problem then, I guess.

Salazar is "greatest Portuguese of all time"

Who's the greatest Portuguese of all time? Ferdinand Magellan? Luís de Camões? Henry the Navigator? Vasco da Gama?

No, no, no, and no.

According to the viewers of Rádio e Televisão de Portugal, the answer is fascist dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. The former dictator received 41% of the total vote, putting him well ahead of his nearest competitors. Why the hell would citizens of a modern, democratic country feel such nostalgia for one of Western Europe's last dictators? Apparently, the answer is either due to the sheer stupidity of the Portuguese public, or a sense of frustration with the current state of political affairs in Portugal - depending on who you ask.

People who were old enough to remember the Salazar regime apparently had kind words for Salazar's "steady hand", and admired his successful efforts to maintain Portuguese neutrality during the second world war. Some even admired his "honesty". Well, that's just about where any list of Salazar's virtues would have to end. For 36 years, Salazar transformed Portugal into a fascist New State defined by the integration of Catholic religious values and nationalist corporatism. Thanks in no small part to a ruthless and efficient secret police, Salazar maintained an iron grip on Portuguese politics. While not indulging in the same level of state sanctioned violence as his fascist contemporaries in Italy, Spain or Germany, Salazar managed to exert just enough pressure to silence any political opposition, whether from the left or right.

I could not flatter the people without being a traitor to my own conscience. Our regime is popular but it is not a government of the masses, being neither influenced nor directed by them. These good people who, moved by the excitement of the occasion, cheer me one day, may rise in rebellion the next day for equally passing reasons.

António Salazar

Salazar also stood apart for his obstinate refusal to voluntarily relinquish any part of Portugal's overseas colonies, whether Portuguese India, East Timor, Angola or Mozambique: Salazar regarded Portugal's status as a colonial power as a point of pride, and treated the massive decolonization rush by other world powers with scorn. Yet for all his pride in Portugal's overseas empire, Salazar never traveled abroad, not even to his far flung colonial possessions.

After suffering a massive stroke in 1968, Salazar's day to day authority was transferred to a successor, but the New State lingered on until after Salazar's death in 1974. While neither as cruel or ostentatious as his contemporaries, Salazar was, perhaps, boring and staid. This is obviously a deficiency to people who revel in the retrograde personalities and eccentricities of dictators. Yet this quiet style combined with political expertise and personal ruthlessness certainly served him well as Europe's quietest fascist.

UPDATE: Well, let it never be said the Portuguese have had the final say on Salazar. Would you believe he also topped the list of the Worst Portuguese Ever?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Thousands protest against Lukashenko regime

An estimated 10,000 people took to the streets of Minsk on Sunday to protest the increasingly authoritarian regime of Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko. Riot police were on hand to keep the crowd from moving into a large city square, and made "several arrests". The protests were timed to commemorate the fourth anniversary of Lukashenko's last victory in a seriously fraudulent election, and were organized by the leaders of what passes for an opposition party in Belarus.

Known as "the last dictator in Europe", Lukashenko's rule is a throwback to Soviet style authoritarianism both politically and economically. Once seeking reunification with Russia, Lukashenko has recently found himself at odds with Moscow over a natural gas pricing dispute, Lukashenko can ill afford to alienate Russia lest he find himself completely isolated politically.

In the event that he's ousted from power in a coup, it's possible that Lukashenko will still be able to land on his feet. He's always got hockey to fall back on, anyway ...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mao Zedong's last son dead at 84

Mao Anqing, the last remaining son of the late Chinese dictator Mao Zedong has died at age 84. According to biographers, Mao had intended to pass on leadership of China to Mao Anqing's elder brother, Mao Anying, before the elder son was killed during fighting in the Korean War.

The younger Mao, who suffered from a mental illness, was never considered to have a role in Mao's dynastic plans, and was shuffled to high ranking, if powerless, positions within the Chinese Communist Party throughout his entire life.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Who's hot? Who's not?

HOT: Frank Bainimarama (Fiji)

Since seizing power in a military coup last December, Commodore Frank Bainimarama endured a lot of indignant outrage from world leaders about his "usurpation of democracy", his "contempt for constitutional norms" and so on. As he was doubtlessly aware, everyone stopped caring a month or so later, and he's still in charge. Has he set a timetable for a return to democracy? No, but he's promised that there won't be elections for "at least three years". The press is scared, but Dictators of the World is convinced that the sky is the limit for Commodore Bainimarama's fledgling dictatorship.

NOT HOT: Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe)

2007 may finally be the year when the 83 year old Mugabe finally loses his grip once and for all. Oh, he can handle political opponents like Morgan Tsvangirai and 61 year old Archbishop Pious Ncube. He's also not losing any sleep over the usual huffy denunciations from the likes of British Prime Minister Tony Blair or American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. What are they going to do, anyway? Write a snarky letter? Complain to the United Nations?

No. Comrade Bob is currently soiling himself over rumors that even the Zimbabwean military and the party he once controlled with an iron fist have had enough of the economic ruin Mugabe has visited upon Zimbabwe. The rest of the ZANU-PF leadership has finally decided to start a power struggle with Mugabe, and rumors of a coup d'etat abound. Let's face it: Mugabe's looking like he's toast.

Taiwan to turn their backs on Chiang Kai-Shek?

Is Taiwan preparing to turn their back on founding father Chiang Kai-shek?

Recent statements by Taiwan's president Chen Shui Bian of the governing left wing Democratic Progressive Party have started a national dialog on the Chiang's place in Taiwanese history, and the reverence accorded to him by many Taiwanese. At issue are comments by president Chen regarding a possible renaming of the massive Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei who noted that a democratic Taiwan has no business honoring "a dictator" like Chiang. Of course, this is seen as an insult to the nationalist Kuomintang party, once led by Chiang himself. Chen recently turned words into action, cutting a giant bronze statue of Chiang into 80 pieces and hauling them away in the middle of the night.

So what's really at issue, here? Politics, naturally. After losing a civil war with Mao Zedong on mainland China, Chiang fled Taiwan in 1949 and seized power in what amounted to a military coup d'etat to claim leadership over all of China. Of course, Taiwan was hardly empty when Chiang and the Kuomintang refugees arrived, and the other Chinese on Taiwan weren't thrilled about the idea of Chiang and his party monopolizing political power for nearly 40 years. The Kuomintang, for their part, clamped down hard on any political opposition, which included the DPP. So when the Kuomintang finally lost leadership of Taiwan, it was natural to think that the new ruling party had some payback in mind for decades of being trampled on by the Kuomintang.

So while we can grant that Chiang was a dictator, it is also useful to acknowledge that Chiang and the Kuomintang also prevented Taiwan from being conquered outright by Mao Zedong and absorbed into an even more repressive Communist China, and indeed, there would be no politically independent Taiwan, or a president Chen Shui Bian without Chiang. How awkward is to to be forced to acknowledge that a dictator was a founding father, or vice versa?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Obrigado para nada, babaca

As a way to welcome my apparent new Lusophone visitors, I thought I'd get started with some news on a Portuguese speaking dictator.

If there's one thing I've learned to count on, it's that an embattled dictator doesn't usually have to wait very long before another dictator lends a helping hand. Such is the case for Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, who has somewhat unexpectedly faced a firestorm of rather huffy international condemnation following a rather innocuous (by Mugabe's standards) police crackdown on the political competition.

What really set the latest round of scolding apart from previous denouncements of Mugabe's regime was that the normally inert African Union appeared to have finally had enough, calling the political problems in Zimbabwe "embarrassing", creating an unheard of opening for other African leaders to chime in and start publicly denouncing the Mugabe regime. South Africa, of course, kept their mouths shut, but considering that criticism of Mugabe's dictatorship within Africa was previously unheard of, Mugabe certainly had to be startled. With a ruined economy, crop failure, and rumors of a party and/or army coup d'etat, Mugabe had to be wondering: won't anyone give me a goddamned break, already?

Enter Angolan dictator José Eduardo dos Santos, who clearly couldn't abide to see a fellow autocrat like Mugabe risk the danger of political or social reform emerging in Zimbabwe. After learning that Zimbabwe's low paid police forces were losing their appetite for clubbing defenseless civilians with rebar, dos Santos thoughtfully stepped into the breach. As a show of comradely support, José Eduardo dos Santos offered to deploy 2,500 paramilitary troopers (known as "ninjas") to Zimbabwe to act as ZANU-PFs riot police, and to nobody's surprise, Mugabe has delightedly accepted dos Santos' proposal.

Considering that Mugabe's favorite rhetorical strawman is "foreign interference", his decision to let in 2,500 armed foreigners enter Zimbabwe seems completely baffling. In fairness, I can't say I find it any more or less confusing than dos Santos' decision to offer military assistance to an international pariah for no other purpose than to terrify Mugabe's political opponents. My inability to reconcile these apparent contradictions inherent in the "new era of African politics" may be at fault, but frankly, I'd thought the Big Man era in African politics was coming to an end. Thanks to José Eduardo dos Santos and Robert Mugabe, I can regretfully put off updating my assumptions for another year.

UPDATE: Or perhaps the "ninjas" will not be going to Zimbabwe after all ...

Just what the hell is going on here?

I think we need to have a talk with Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov. Mere months after winning a mockery of an election, most foreign observers expected the new "winner" to continue ruling in the same way as his predecessor, the inscrutable Father of all Turkmen himself, Saparmurat Niazov. We expected more self-glorification, more bizarre edicts, and more of the usual casual disregard for human rights, freedoms, and the like.

Well, so far, Berdimuhammedov has been something of a disappointment for those expecting (or desiring!) a seamless continuation of Turkmenbashi's governance. What, for example, are we to make of a report claiming that Berdimuhammadov has voluntarily abolished some of his own executive powers? Are we able to infer anything from his scathing criticism of television programming choices in Turkmenistan that were laid down from on high by Turkmenbashi himself? Most shockingly of all, what would the Father of all Turkmen make of the decision by Berdimuhammedov to tone down the formerly all pervasive personality cult?

Is this any sort of way to run a Central Asian dictatorship?

So far, Turkmenistan hasn't taken any politically radical steps, but considering he's only been in power for less than three months, he's got quite a lot of work to do if he wants to continue to be mentioned in the same breath as his predecessor.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Comeback Castro?

Could Cuban dictator Fidel Castro be readying himself for making a political comeback?

After transferring his unlimited presidential authority to his only slightly less elderly brother Raúl following apparently botched intestinal surgery in July, Fidel Castro has been bedridden and out of the political limelight. As we all know, Fidel may be a dictator, but he's never been the shy or retiring type. So when news came out of Cuba that the octogenarian Fidel may finally be recovering from his mysterious ailment, speculation began immediately as to when he would be getting back to his more familiar role as Cuba's caudillo.

I'm taking the skeptical view, myself. At this stage, Fidel is too old, too weak, and too far removed from the levers of power after his eight month hospitalization. The constant attention of a certain deranged paramour notwithstanding, the rest of the world is waiting for Fidel to die so that they can start talking to Raúl about Cuba's long delayed entry into the club of democratic nations. He may get out of the hospital, but I just can't see him getting back into the proverbial driver's seat.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

As the world squirms

At the risk of repeating myself, I've had just about enough of the world's instant outrage over Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. Following a harsh, but typical, crackdown on an street protest by the Movement for Democratic Change, western governments started to appear to outdo one another in the vehemence of their condemnations of Mugabe's notoriously violent and inept rule. My question is this:

Where the hell has this attitude towards Mugabe been for the past two and a half decades?

After a brief post-independence honeymoon in the early 1980s, when a magnanimous Mugabe played the role of a new capable breed of post-colonial African leader, Mugabe's true colors as a repressive dictator started to emerge. In 1982, a mere two years after achieving independence, Mugabe invited a North Korean military attachment to train an elite Zimbabwean army unit that was created for the purpose of massacring Zimbabwe's Ndebele people for the allegedly unpardonable sin of lending political support to one of Mugabe's domestic political rivals. The world heard hardly a whisper of disapproval about what Zimbabweans called gukurahundi from any of the nations now blasting Mugabe on human rights.

For years, the world looked the other way as Mugabe put the screws on Zimbabwe. Nobody particularly cared, for example, when Mugabe started outlawing the existence of a free press inside Zimbabwe, or condemned one of Africa's wealthiest nations to poverty with his cronyism, corruption, and half-assed, state controlled Marxist economic plans. After all, some rationalized, it wouldn't be "productive" for western nations to criticize an emerging African nation. Some could take it the wrong way, don't you know.

The same nations making the most noise can rightly claim that it didn't care about Mugabe's rapid transition from president to dictator, but they cannot truthfully claim that they didn't notice. Mugabe, for his part, made absolutely no effort to hide his authoritarianism, and assailed any foreign criticism of his rule as quasi-racist neo-colonialism. By the time Zimbabwe's life expectancy had become the lowest on earth, and Zimbabwe's inflation the highest on earth, Mugabe had been a dictator for decades.

And now, the same countries spouting this gibberish about pious concern for Mugabe's victims are calling for action. Wait, action? What action? Does anyone think slapping economic sanctions on Zimbabwe will do anything but hurt the people who are already dealing with economic ruin? A sporting boycott? Are they serious? But both of these appear to be brilliant ideas into saving Zimbabwe compared to the ultimate bad idea: letting the United Nations handle it. In fact, if there is an institution on earth that Robert Mugabe is less afraid of than the United Nations, it has yet to appear. Call it naivete or call it passing the buck, but the west is jumping on an opportunity to express maximum moral outrage (which looks good on cameras) while simultaneously eschewing any real solutions that would topple the Mugabe dictatorship and restore some semblance of economic, social and political normality to the nation he's turned into one the world's biggest disasters.

Here's a hint: Mugabe is a dictator. His overriding concern is the acquisition and maintenance of power. His greatest fear is being ousted from power. Not sternly worded memos from the United Nations. Not further economic sanctions on the people he doesn't give a damn about anyway, but power.

One final hint: he's not going to relinquish power voluntarily. Someone will have to take it away from him against his will. Do you get the picture, now?

Welcome, Lusophones!

After being linked from a Portuguese index, this blog has received over 100 Portuguese speaking visitors in one day. While extending a hearty welcome, I must confess that I don't speak Portuguese (even though I live in Rhode Island), but I'm certainly willing to tailor my content to my readership.

This begs the question: should I be profiling António Salazar? Getúlio Vargas? José dos Santos?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Is Musharraf a goner?

When I last wrote about Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf back in January, the verdict was "not hot". Amazingly, it seems the General's fortunes have slipped even further since then.

Musharraf has faced intense criticism (and violent social unrest) over his recent attempts to remove a Supreme Court justice from the bench, citing vague "abuses of judicial authority". What on earth would prompt a man who fashions himself as a benevolent political reformer to tamper with Pakistan's judiciary?

From all appearances, Musharraf either believes he's in imminent danger of being ousted in a coup, or failing that, he's simply gone crazy. I'm tempted to believe both, as the general lashed out in the press against political figures he believes are conspiring against him. I'm tempted to dismiss Musharraf's rants about conspiracies as the demented ravings of a desperate dictator, but he may, in fact, be on to something.

Since achieving independence in 1947, the Pakistani government has been ruled, more often than not, by people who have seized power in military coup d'etats, including Pervez Musharraf himself. Amid mounting rumors of an impending coup, the leaders of Pakistan's military will be meeting this week, and Musharraf would be crazy not to suspect that a coup is in the works. Musharraf has to be especially wary of the state's feared secret services, the ISI, whose hostility to Pakistan's alliance with Washington (and whose support of Muslim terrorist organizations) is an open secret.

Musharraf has long had to walk a tightrope of appeasing the west as an ally on the war against terrorism, while taking care not to provoke the aforementioned elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence services that support terrorist organizations. And while it he could, perhaps, lose the support of either Washington or his security services, he cannot afford to lose both. With rumors that Washington has had enough of Musharraf's "double game", the domestic flank will almost certainly close in on him and knock him out.

There's blood in the water, and the sharks are closing in. I don't like dabbling in predictions, but it will take nothing short of a minor miracle for Musharraf to remain in power throughout the entire year. The real question is: what sort of man will replace him?

Friday, March 16, 2007

An "apology" from Dési Bouterse

Well now, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Former Surinamese military dictator Dési Bouterse has finally apologized for his responsibility in the "extra judicial killings" of 15 government opponents during his reign in 1982. Well, sort of. Bouterse, who led a coup d'etat that overthrew the government in 1980, told surviving relatives of the 15 people that while he was "politically responsible" for the 15 murders, but denied any personal responsibility for the shootings.

After his brief apology, Bouterse attempted to tell "his side of the story" by saying that the 15 people were CIA agents attempting to overthrow him, a charge the surviving families vehemently deny. Bouterse also, perhaps not surprisingly, called for a government amnesty for those directly accused of the killings. Lest anyone think this request is due for some desire for "closure", Bouterse is more likely afraid that should any of the accused come to trial, they'll simply say what everyone's known all along: they simply acted on Bouterse's orders.

I'm sure those surviving family members feel much better now that he's cleared that up. If we know one thing about Dési Bouterse, it's that he's a class act all the way.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mugabe cracks down.

World leaders of nations stretching from Canada to New Zealand have issued indignant (if impotent) condemnations of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe following a violent police crackdown on an anti-Mugabe protest in Harare last weekend. For once, even the usually politically docile African Union admitted that, at long last, they were "embarrassed" by the economic, social, and political disasters wrought by Mugabe.

I'm not sure why everyone picked now as the time to actually notice that Robert Mugabe is a dictatorial thug prone to using violence to keep himself in power. For over a decade, Mugabe has mobilized militias on behalf of his ruling ZANU-PF to attack and harass his political enemies, whether they're white commercial farmers, his country's supreme court judges, and as always, leaders (and members) of the Movement for Democratic Change. After all, it's hard to stay in power forever if your enemies are determined to vote you out, isn't it?

Why the world finds Mugabe's latest outrages more scandalous than other previous, virtually identical, such incidents is anyone's guess. It's impossible to believe they've only now noticed Mugabe's dictatorship, or the human misery Zimbabwe has been reduced to during his 27 year rule. We understand that South Africa keeps quiet on purpose, but what was everyone else's excuse? And more to the point, what makes them think that Mugabe is afraid of their condemnations?

Mugabe, who has in the past boasted about having a "degree in violence" couldn't care less about damaging Zimbabwe's relations with countries like Canada, the UK or Chile: he cares about staying in power. Financial sanctions? He's certainly not afraid of those. His money's already in the bank, and while it's almost impossible to imagine the citizens of Zimbabwe being any poorer than they are now, those are precisely the people who would be hurt by sanctions, not Mugabe.

Mugabe knows that talk is cheap, and he is definitely trying to hang on for the long haul. At 83, he's made the decision that he's going to die at the top. Are any of the countries who wag their fingers at Mugabe willing to lift a finger to actually oust him, or are they just going to wait until he kicks off and his equally repellent cronies fight each other to take his place?

You should know by now what the answer to that question is.

UPDATE: Mugabe tells all those foreign do-gooders what they can go and do with their self-righteous complaining!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A cup of Hugonomics

Hugo Chávez can't understand why nobody in Venezuela has any coffee to drink.

"The government now controls the price of coffee - so why doesn't anyone have any coffee? In fact, why are Venezuelans facing shortages of nearly all the goods the government controls the price of?"

Oh, I don't know. I think someone's actually gone over this topic before. Contrary to popular political opinion, Venezuela's biggest economic nightmare isn't a collapse in world oil prices, but rather, having a stream of income just large enough for the government's inflationary monetary policies to continue in perpetuity.

Like all socialist and communist leaders before him, Chávez is tackling wealth disparity the easiest way possible. He's not going to make the poor rich, but rather, he's making everybody poor.

Friday, March 09, 2007

"Vampire" Milosevic's grave desecrated.

Could it be a case of someone taking negative political imagery too literally, or just literally enough?

The grave of former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević was found desecrated this week in the town of Požarevac, after a man drove a three foot stake through the remains of the corpse's heart. One of the suspects has given himself up, claiming that he and a group of other men had performed the act to prevent Milošević from rising from the grave as a vampire.

It's entirely likely this act had purely political, instead of folkloric, significance amid fears that Milošević's former party may return to power in Serbia. I think it's safe to say that Serbia is less in danger from Milošević's corpse than it is from Serbian anger over the United Nation's plan to grant de facto independence to the former Serbian province of Kosovo.

All the same, Dictators of the World applauds the brave attempt to prevent dictators rising from the grave as vampires or zombis. Am I worried about the supernatural returns of Josef Stalin or François "Papa Doc" Duvalier? Maybe not, but I'm not above having a group of amateur vampire hunters bust out the wooden stakes to make sure, either.

Finally, congratulations to, well, me, for my 100th post. 2007 promises to be a much busier year than 2006 did, but I'll make sure that you, my loyal dictator loving readers, get your fix of stories about the world's most notorious tyrants.

Turkey bans YouTube after Atatürk insulted

A court in Turkey has banned national access to YouTube following claims that a Greek video blogger had uploaded a video calling national icon Kemal Atatürk a "faggot".

Lest anyone forget, criticism of Atatürk is outlawed in Turkey as part of an infamous provision in the Turkish penal code that outlaws "insulting Turkishness". This law also bars any ugly speculation that Turkey had any role in the deaths of a whole lot of Armenians, but insulting Atatürk is considered an even more unthinkable thoughtcrime in a nation that was remade in Atatürk's image.

YouTube, as is their wont, completely caved in and removed the offending video, leaving the rest of us to wonder why the rest of the world is supposed to get upset about a Greek insulting a dead Turkish leader. Obviously, there's still some lingering bad blood between Greece and Turkey, but caving into Turkey, while commercially understandable, is somewhat ridiculous. On a website where you can find thousands of foreigners insulting leaders from George Bush to, well, George Bush, only Turkey so admires their former dictator by outlawing criticism of him completely.

Sure, there are plenty of countries where insulting the current dictator is illegal, but even Saparmurat Niyazov allowed criticism of former Soviet leaders. Does Turkey, a nation aspiring to European Union membership, really imagine that they can keep these archaic laws alive and join the EU? If he were alive today, it would seem likely that Atatürk, ever forward looking, would urge his countrymen to scrap the silly laws protecting the honor of a dead man to move Turkey to the next stage of history.

In the meantime, though, would anyone care to make a video blog calling Mao Zedong a pederast to see if China blocks YouTube?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Hey, Joe ...

... where you going with that pipe in your hand? But seriously, folks.

Can't get enough of Uncle Joe? If so, don't miss the Magnum Photos essay about the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin over at Slate. Party like it's 1939, right here. Be forewarned, comrades: few, if any, of the photos conform to the glorious Soviet standard of socialist realism, and I suspect that some of them may be even serving counterrevolutionary purposes!

¡Ay, caramba!

Hugo Chávez doesn't appear to know how to stay out of the news, but I suppose that's just more good news for people like me who blog about authoritarian regimes.

This week, Chávez is raving about the United States. Yes, I hear you say, but what else is new? Well, for starters, the Venezuelan strongman has claimed that he is facing an imminent threat of assassination by the Central Intelligence Agency, and specifically claimed that US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is the "professional killer" hired to do the job. Ironically, these comments show just how out of date Comrade Chávez is. The Central Intelligence Agency has been a broken shell of its former self since the end of the Cold War, and most people would doubt it has the ability to knock off the government of Nauru, much less Venezuela.

Nevertheless, Chávez has spent billions of the oil money generated by Yanqui gasoline buyers to go on the world's largest military spending spree. Did you know that Venezuela now has the continent's largest submarine fleet - with more submarines than Brazil and Argentina combined? Well, now you know. For years, Chávez has been predicting that a full blown US invasion will happen at "any moment", and the Venezuelan military has been on high alert bravely defending the motherland against an enemy who looks on with bemused disinterest. While the sight of a dictator ranting about imaginary threats is amusing up here in the United States, it's decidedly less entertaining for Venezuelans, many of whom fear that Chávez will be using the non-existent threat of an American assault as a pretext to declare an indefinite state of emergency - a move which would grant him even greater executive powers to deliver the coup de grâce to his political opposition.

Faced with spiraling inflation due to out of control social and military spending, Chávez desperately needs to find a way to hang on through the upcoming economically turbulent times to come. Will his latest attempt to deflect attention be enough to hang on when the Central Bank runs out of hard currency? Will he increase propaganda spending abroad to try and get sympathetic Western leftists to bail him out? That all remains to be seen, but I have one more pressing question for Presidente Chávez:

Will he stop putting goddamned berets on poor, defenseless Amazon parrots?

Happy birthday, Ghana!

The West African state of Ghana is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of independence from Great Britain this year, a milestone for the first post-colonial African nation. Unfortunately, the first independent African nation led, very quickly, to the birth of the African "big man syndrome" style of dictatorship.

Ghana's particular honeymoon didn't last long. Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, started banning opposition political parties early on his tenure, before eventually declaring himself "President for Life" in 1964, a little less than 7 years after leading his nation to independence. Nkrumah dismissed criticism that he had become a dictator, saying:

Even a system based on a democratic constitution may need backing up in the period following independence by emergency measures of a totalitarian kind.

The people's love affair with their liberator was chafing under his increasing paranoia and repressive nature, and he was finally overthrown in a military coup d'etat while on a state visit to China. Of the next six leaders of Ghana, five took power in military coups, the most of infamous of whom was Air Force Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings (pictured above), who ruled Ghana directly for 22 years, and controlled the levers of military power behind the scenes for some time before that.

As Ghana celebrates being the first European colony in Africa to gain independence, I hope the Ghanaian people take some time to reflect on Africa's future, and specifically, how to avoid the creation of the dictatorships that have stifled the political freedom and economic opportunity of untold millions of Africans over the past 50 years. Ghana cannot change the past, naturally, but it certainly can try and set the tone for the future.

Monday, March 05, 2007

That just wouldn't be fair, now would it?

Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi redefined irony this week in a rare public speaking appearance, during which he characterized representative democracy and global free trade economics as "dictatorship".

On the subject of representative democracy, Libya's "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution" claimed that representative democracy equates to the "dictatorship of the 51%", adding:

51 percent - this is not democracy. That means 49 percent is against the winner.
While the Colonel's math skills are reasonably sharp, there are many people who could quibble with his perception of democracy. Since seizing power in a military coup d'etat in 1969, Qaddafi has been the uncontested ruler of Libya, and has kept power thanks to a well funded and utterly ruthless secret police and a pervasive personality cult that outlaws any criticism of him or his rule.

To his credit, the Colonel has avoided the "dictatorship of the 51%" by opting for a dictatorship of one man - himself. And while he has sought to rehabilitate his image of late, there is absolutely no question of him stepping down from power, or even (may Allah forbid!) expanding social or political freedoms in Libya. After all, that would risk creating the dreaded dictatorship of the 51%, and that just wouldn't be fair, now would it?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Russia condemns Antonescu rehabilitation

More than 60 years after being shot by a firing squad, an appeals court in Bucharest has exonerated Romania's former fascist dictator Ion Antonescu of his conviction (and eventual execution) for "crimes against peace". The ruling further stated that Romania's wartime alliance with Nazi Germany was legal (if ill advised), and exonerated Antonescu of all "crimes against peace" committed before and during the war. The Russians are outraged, and frankly, I am too. I'm actually even more outraged that nobody else seems to have noticed this story, and nearly as outraged that Russia has the gall to criticize any country for their history of human rights violations.

The court's logic is actually fairly straightforward: Antonescu was justified in launching a "preventative war" against the Soviet Union in 1940 for fear of Soviet domination. As the Soviets had already claimed the Romanian territory of Bessarabia in the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Antonescu certainly judged Soviet designs correctly, and the court said that the threat justified Antonescu's decision to seek any alliances to prevent the Soviet takeover.

As leader of the feared Iron Guard, Antonescu led between a quarter million and 400,000 people, mostly Jews, to their deaths during the second world war before his capture, trial and execution at the hands of Romania's Soviet dominated post-war government.

Gracias, Hugo!

One of the side effects of class warfare is that the class being struggled against take their talents and income elsewhere. And true to form, the "Bolivarian revolution" of Hugo Chávez has sent Venezuela's upper and middle classes heading for the exits for political asylum overseas, taking their skills and money with them.

The United States in particular is seeing a surge of Venezuelans applying for asylum - an odd phenomenon considering Venezuela's long envied regional status for political freedom and economic stability in the pre-Chavez era. When Chávez announced plans to nationalize private utility companies last January, the US embassy in Caracas reported that requests for visas doubled. Nearly all of the requests are from people who have found themselves on the wrong socio-political end of Chávez's firebrand socialist rhetoric. Even many of those who voted for Chávez have found themselves scapegoated by a "revolution" that relies on pandering to the poor for political support.

With a skyrocketing murder rate, high unemployment, and the world's worst performing currency, Chávez's role in driving out the wealthiest and best educated Venezuelans seems a puzzling choice to solving his country's problems. Then again, class warfare is about emotion, not logic, and Venezuela's brain drain is our brain gain. So gracias, presidente Hugo, for forcing your best and brightest to flee to America. You keep chasing them out, and we'll keep welcoming them in. And don't do anything foolish that might tempt them to go back, like liberalizing the economy, or giving up your dictatorial powers. After all, you'll know your socialist revolution has succeeded only when Venezuela hits rock bottom. Believe us, we've seen it all before.