Flight of the world's great dictators

As President Suharto contemplates life after dictatorship, his fellow despots show it is possible still to find a safe haven
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The Independent Online
FORMER president Suharto of Indonesia is probably feeling more apprehensive now than he has done at any time in the past 34 years, as he contemplates his future. He has certainly made adequate financial arrangements for himself and his family, but he cannot guarantee he will have access to the billions he has milked from the Indonesian economy. Neither can he guarantee that he will even be able to stay in his own country.

Nevertheless, the fate of the dictators of the second half of the 20th century does not represent a universally bleak picture for him. True, many men of his age or thereabouts died soon after leaving office. President Mobutu of Zaire did not have a long and happy retirement; neither did the Central African Republic's Emperor Bokassa, nor Malawi's Hastings Banda. Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines keeled over when in exile in Hawaii.

But there are others who are managing to live in comfort, and even luxury - no matter how many thousands of their own people they murdered.

Idi Amin Dada of Uganda was in power for nine years between 1971 and 1979. During this time he set new standards of cruelty and violence until he fled the country in 1979 following a Tanzanian-backed invasion. After he was ousted, it was estimated that he had been responsible for the murder of 300,000 of his own subjects - a rate of 7,000 a week. After his expulsion, Amin escaped to Libya and later to Saudi Arabia, where he was provided with a house and an income.

Mengistu Haile Mariam, the former Ethiopian dictator, is being tried in absentia for genocide and crimes against humanity. Despite extradition attempts, "the black Stalin" found safe haven in Harare in 1991 courtesy of another African despot, Robert Mugabe. The cost to the increasingly impoverished Zimbabwean tax payer for Mengistu's security and the other expenses has so far topped pounds 1m.

Millions of Ethiopians died of famine and civil war under Mengistu's rigid Marxist rule. He and former political cronies are accused of ordering the execution of 1,823 opponents, including former Emperor Haile Selassie.

In November 1995, Mengistu escaped an assassination attempt by an Eritrean who later told a Zimbabwean court that his genitals were permanently damaged after he was tortured by Mengistu's henchmen.

Otherwise, Mengistu has been sitting pretty. However, he is said to be jittery about the increasing unpopularity of Mr Mugabe. If opposition groups in Zimbabwe have their way the two dictators may soon be house sharing in some foreign backwater. It is forecast that the teetering Mugabe will not last until 2002, the next presidential elections.

Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, 46, former Haitian dictator and French Riviera playboy, fled Haiti in 1986 and has been virtually a missing person for three years. He is still living in France, flitting from apartment to apartment among the exiled Haitian community. His last known address was in Saint-Cloud, in the suburbs of Paris, where his mother - Mama-Doc, wife of Papa-Doc, Haitian dictator for three decades - died on 26 December last year.

At first, Baby Doc lived in some style with his wife, two children and mother at a villa in Vallauris, near Cannes, rented for pounds 80,000 a year. In 1990 his wife, Michele, having gone through much of the money, left him for a businessman. When they were divorced in 1991, Michele got custody of the children and most of what remained of the cash.

Baby Doc clung on at the villa, with his mother, until 1994. After failing to pay the rent for several months, he was forced into a nearby bungalow. A cloud of other unpaid bills forced him to leave the Riviera the following year; since then he has been reported to be in Paris, staying with exiled Haitian friends. In April last year, he told a Miami radio station he wanted to help transform Haiti into a "pluralist democracy" devoted to "liberty, peace, progress and reconciliation".

Mr Suharto would probably rather not wish to follow the example of Manuel Noriega of Panama - currently incarcerated in a Florida jail. He may reflect, on the other hand, that Raoul Cedras, responsible for the untold suffering of thousands of Haitians, is living in some style in Panama. Under a deal cut by mediators led by former US President Jimmy Carter, Cedras and his henchmen fled Haiti and he has since lived in a luxury apartment block called the Nuevo Emperador in Panama's Paitilla district.

Cedras is said to be a wealthy man from the proceeds of arms and narcotics sales and other businesses he was cut into while in power.

Haiti has asked for his extradition but the Panamanian authorities have always found technicalities they say make extradition impossible.

Alfredo Stroessner, who during a time in power that lasted roughly as long as Suharto's, tortured and murdered his way through the Paraguayan opposition. But he now lives in neighbouring Brazil, in a mansion on the outskirts of the capital, Brasilia.

Granted asylum by the Brazilian authorities, he and his wife keep a low profile in the upmarket Lago Sul district, favoured by foreign diplomats, politicians and company executives. He rarely ventures beyond his front porch, where the couple have occasionally been seen sunning themselves, but he is said to be still a very wealthy man.

But Suharto might be most attracted to the example of one General Pinochet of Chile, who ousted a democratically-elected Marxist government in 1973, but after a career littered with atrocities has now just been made a senator for life.