From Parade Magazine, Feb. 16, 2003
The 10 Worst Living Dictators
by David Wallechinsky
1. Kim Jong Il, North Korea
2. King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia
3. Saddam Hussein, Iraq
4. Charles Taylor, Liberia
5. Than Shwe, Burma
6. Teodoro Boiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea
7. Saparmurad Niyazov, Turkmenistan
8. Muammar Al-Qaddafi, Libya
9. Fidel Castro, Cuba
10. Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus
Now, the first thing I noticed about the rankings was that Saddam only got third behind Kim and Fahd/Abdullah. Was this more evidence that our priorities as a pre-empting superpower are screwed up?
To compose his list, Wallechinsky "consulted independent human-rights organizations that are willing to expose both left- and right-wing regimes, such as Freedom House, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. 'I looked at the documented suppression of those freedoms and rights that Americans take for granted,' he says. 'Freedom of speech and religion, freedom to choose elected representatives and to disagree with their government, and the right to a fair trial.' He gave 'extra credit ' to those dictators who torture prisoners and others, execute political opponents, cause their citizens to starve or to suffer malnutrition and who interfere violently in the politics of countries other than their own." (Don't get ahead of me now.)
Interestingly, Saddam wouldn't even have made third place if it were not for the attention he's getting as Bush's numero uno threat, "Saddam was considered over the hill as a global-scale dictator until President (sic) George W. Bush began to promote his status as a threat to world peace."
The one that got me thinking, though, was Obiang of Equatorial Guinea:
This tiny West African nation (pop. 500,000) was ruled from 1968 to 1979 by Francisco Macias Nguema, a violent dictator who murdered thousands of his people and drove a third of them into exile. Macias was overthrown and executed by his nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has shown no more respect for human rights than his uncle.
Equatorial Guinea was a forgotten dictatorship until oil was discovered in 1995. Since then, U.S. oil companies have poured $5 billion into the country, raising the gross domestic product $4676 a person, though the average citizen takes home barely $2 a day. Most of the rest goes to Obiang, who controls all branches of the government and continues to arrest and torute political opponents. In December, he won 97% of the vote in an election that had little credibility, as many potential opposition candidates were in jail.
Now, I hadn't even heard of this guy until I read this article. So many tyrants, so little air-time! I suppose he's smart enough to keep a low profile when it comes to being noticed as a heinous dictator who deserves to be put away for the cause of democratic ideals and human rights. He'd have to, since he also sits atop a vast store of O-I-L, and besides, it's such a tiny little country in terms of population; even tinier since he took over. Heck, he didn't even have the cajones to declare himself elected by 100% of the vote like you-know-who. And he's got friends in big O-I-L, who wouldn't want to see him getting any unfavorable press, especially now (which is why, I suspect, I had to read about it in the "family" magazine section of my local newspaper). Besides, he loves the U.S! Where else could a sixth-worst-dictator-in-the-whole-freakin-world get that much dough-re-mi, you know? And the more oil we buy from him, the less we have to buy from those other guys in second and third place. So it's easy to see why we support him and not those other guys -- uh, make that -- guy. The one's in second place are a bad example.