Tyrants on the run U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

October 14, 1994|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,JEF DAUBER/SUN STAFF GRAPHICSun Staff Writer

Of all the world's refugees, they are the most despised. They are the deposed dictators, spun into exile by a turn of fortune's wheel.

One day they are surrounded by sycophants, bathed in luxury, able with a word to rally a crowd of ostensibly adoring citizens or condemn an annoying critic to death. The next day, they may be fleeing for their own lives, destined for a life of gloomy exile in which even stolen millions can run short.

Haiti's military rulers flew to exile in Panama early yesterday, not long after vowing that they would never leave their native land. Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby and their families took over an entire floor of a luxury hotel in Panama City.

They are expected to move soon to the lush tropical island of Contadora, a tourist resort that offered brief refuge to the Shah of Iran after his ouster in 1979. For them, the shah's case is a dispiriting precedent. Denied refuge by country after embarrassed country, he died of cancer in Egypt a year after the Islamic revolution unseated him.

These days, after several bad years for dictatorships around the globe, there is a shortage of countries that welcome tyrants on the run.

"There's a paradox," says Philippe Schmitter, a political scientist at Stanford University who specializes in Latin America. "Because of the wave of democratization, in recent years there have been fewer and fewer dictatorships to flee to."

For decades, Dr. Schmitter says, "there was, I won't say a brotherhood, but a certain unspoken agreement among dictators that they would offer one another a haven in case of emergency. What's happened in Latin America and some other places is that there's no bolt-hole."

Not only the shrinking number of regimes headed by strongmen, but possibly the behavior of some dictators in exile may contribute to such reluctance to open the door.

A notorious case is that of Idi Amin, whose brutal rule in Uganda from 1971 to 1979 was blamed for the deaths of a half-million people. He fled to Libya as rebels and Tanzanian army forces advanced.

Amin, who once appeared on Ugandan television with an executed enemy's severed hand on a plate, was no sought-after guest. But his hostility to Israel and nominal Muslim faith had won him the support of some Islamic countries, Libya among them.

Then, after about two years, his bodyguards became involved in a shootout with Libyan forces, said Nelson Kasfir, a specialist on Uganda at Dartmouth College.

He found a new home in Saudi Arabia. In 1989, he slipped away in an ill-fated attempt to return to Uganda via Senegal, Nigeria and Zaire. "Someone spotted him. He's not hard to spot," Mr. Kasfir said of the obese former boxing champion.

Under pressure from other countries, which didn't want him making trouble in Africa, the Saudis took him back.

"There's a concept that everyone has to take one thug," said Shawn H. McCormick, an African studies expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Amin "lives high off the hog in a small palace set up by the Saudi royal family. There's a swimming pool, lots of attendants and security guards," Mr. McCormick said.

General Cedras can hardly be cheered by the example of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who ruled Haiti after the 1971 death of his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Like General Cedras, Jean-Claude Duvalier fled in 1986 on a U.S-supplied aircraft after weeks of unrest. He, too, was not exactly courted; the president of Gabon reportedly rejected him, declaring, "Gabon is not a garbage can."

Mr. Duvalier ended up with his wife, Michele, and an ill-gotten fortune estimated at $120 million on the French Riviera. They settled in a hillside villa, picked up the tab for expensive parties and drove their BMW or Ferrari through the Alps or on Parisian shopping sprees.

But lately, after what must be some kind of world record for profligacy, Mr. Duvalier has fallen on hard times. His wife left him, taking their two children and a chunk of the remaining family fortune.

Kicked out of two villas for not paying the rent, Mr. Duvalier reportedly now does the gardening at the crumbling stone house near Cannes where he lives with his mother in lieu of paying rent. He has lost his phone service and is rumored to spend much of his time watching pornographic videos.

Still, even in his present diminished circumstances, Mr. Duvalier's fate is far from the worst to befall dictators on the way down. Some get summary execution; the firing squad that cut down Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, on Christmas Day 1989 was immediately televised to prove to the nation that he was dead.

Others avoid execution but not indignity. Erich Honecker, who ruled East Germany for 18 years, was charged in 1990 in connection with the killing of people fleeing over the Berlin Wall. He hid out in a Soviet military hospital until being spirited to Moscow by old Communist allies.

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