WHERE COULD HE GO NOW?
You may have missed the career opportunity of a lifetime. Until recently, extraordinary riches were available to you, all tax-free, if you became a despotic kleptocrat in some failed state. Of course, kleptocracy is not something you should try at home. But then again, there have been juicy rewards for those willing to overlook the occasional indiscretion.
In the 1950s, Cuban Presidential strongman Fulgencio Batista suffered a set back as Fidel Castro’s guerrillas pressed for an administration change. Then, on New Year’s morning 1958, Batista got the call his time was up and departed town with $300 million accompanied by his closest 180 friends. It was a loss of face for any former head of state, but settling in Spain with his millions was not the worst alternative.
Batista wasn’t the first dictator to loot the treasury and seek a fresh start in a new venue. But to be fair, he was a pioneer and perfected the technique for followers to build on. Remember Ugandan tyrant and “African Caligula” Idi Amin? He was the one who brought the “tyrant-skipping-town profession” to a new level. After shipping out suitcases full of cash on every foreign visit, he finally left for good in 1978 and settled in luxurious digs in Saudi Arabia.
Then came the ruthless Baby Doc Duvalier, head of Haiti, who showed his predecessors how to make real money. He left the National Bank millions of dollars poorer when he and his wife loaded up cash bags and headed for the South of France. All in all, baby Doc enjoyed a good life in his comfortable chateau with an estimated half-billion in looted wealth. Life was quite pleasant until his wife took most of his assets in a divorce settlement.
Those were the good old days when a few hundred million would allow for a respectable retirement. A man could make the Misses proud with a nest egg like that.
Then the hammer came down. The opportunities for most dictators ended abruptly in London on October 16, 1998, when Augusto Pinochet, President of Chile, was cuffed and went to the Big House. Seems the new human rights doctrine of “universal jurisdiction” took effect. Potentates and heads of state could no longer enjoy immunity. Henceforth there would be few places to shelter and a price would be paid for past misdeeds.
Some breathed a sigh of relief and felt the dictator game was up. Justice would now prevail. Others saw trouble. Along with the law stripping despots of their legal protection came another statute: The law of unintended consequences. Why would a scoundrel ever leave office without diplomatic safe-haven immunity? Today the world still pays a price for the strong man gone wrong. Uganda, Haiti, and Cuba had kleptocrats who plundered the treasury for a while, and then they were gone. Are things better today? Will tyrants ever leave office voluntarily facing “universal jurisdiction liability”? Venezuela is a failed state getting worse, with no ability to rid itself of its despot. So why would President Maduro ever want to leave?