HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES (Part 7)

Welcome to part 7 of my 7-part series on dictators, an irreverent guide to some of history’s worst people and part of my effort to bring geopolitics and history to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but are too lazy to read The Economist.

I’ll be releasing a new segment of this essay each week. If you’d like the entire essay now, please join my mailing list and I’ll send it to you. It’s that easy!

Missed part 1? Read it here.

You also missed part 2? Read it here.

Damn, you also missed part 3? What’s up with that? Read it here.

Seriously, you never read part 4? That’s messed up. Read it here.

Part 5, too? What the fuck is wrong with you? Read it here.

For fuck’s sake, read part 6 here.

Want more laughs? Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of CIA and the War on Terror. One reader “thought it would be funnier,” but agreed it was “still a very enjoyable book.” I hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime, enjoy learning about dictators!

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES

OR

DICTATORS

(Part 7)

On the other side of the world, South America’s most “charismatic leader” (aka dictator) was the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Chavez tried to take over the country in a coup in 1992 but failed. So he turned to the electoral system instead, and oddly enough, it worked.

Chavez was less interested in spending his country’s money on himself than in running its economy into the ground while shouting about imperialist pigs (that’s us). The United States was responsible for everything bad. Not sunny on Margarita Island today? Blame the United States. Venezuela takes narco money even though it has tons of oil? Blame the United States. Opposition leaders talking shit about you? Jail them for planning a coup backed by the United States. Chavez even blamed the United States when he got cancer. Basically, anything wrong in the world is the fault of the United States.

He was rather poetic, a manner he skillfully employed as the spiritual leader of La Revolución Bolivariana, promoting a blend of populism and socialism that also required that he have mythical status.

He cultivated this image by always being on television. He was on television for hours a day. I’m not sure he ever took a pee break. By some estimates, he spent 40 hours a week on TV. His ministers were required to attend the broadcast, and sometimes El Presidente made policy on the show. Once on TV he ordered troops to the border with Colombia (a move that was necessary because of, you guessed it, U.S. domination in Colombia), like if Nene Leakes used her reality show platform to bomb Kim Zolciak (for liking the United States).

I’m not sure how Chavez ran the country when he was so busy being both Hoda and Kathie Lee and his ministers were like Oprah’s audience waiting for their favorite things. But it worked, if by “worked” you mean the country ran out of everything.

Even though Venezuela has lots of oil and sold most of it to the United States (we may be imperialist pigs, but even a socialist has a soft spot for greenbacks), Venezuela has excelled at lacking enough dollars to purchase anything on the international market, which is particularly awesome when you factor in the fact that Venezuela produces very little of its own. Soon, store shelves were empty. The people Chavez was fighting so hard for were in deep shit, literally, because they had no toilet paper. And you know whose fault that was? Ours, the imperialist pigs, the only ones buying oil and providing any cash to the country.

Admittedly, being a Chavista can be complicated.

So instead of allowing his people to think logically, Chavez appealed to their need for spiritual fulfillment and took on the role of religious icon overseeing the revolution. He also had really cool friends like Sean Penn.

sean-penn-chavez

Sean Penn explains how Hugo Chavez had the Venezuelan people by the balls.

Venezuelans ate up this legend Chavez created, maybe because they didn’t have any food. When he exhumed the body of Simón Bolivar, the popular revolutionary leader who led the fight for independence of much of South America from the Spanish, in a clear attempt to ride the dead socialist’s coattails, Chavez live-tweeted the somber ceremony, telling his adoring followers, “That glorious skeleton must be Bolivar, because his flame can be felt. Bolivar lives!”

Bolivar still lives, now in the form of Chavez’s ghost, which shows itself at politically expedient times. After Chavez succumbed to the cancer rays the United States shot at him, he appeared to his anointed successor, Nicolas Maduro, as a little bird. You know what the little bird told Maduro to tell the people? That they should vote for Maduro or risk being cursed. And like hell if the people were going to take that risk, considering all the other deep shit they were in already, and not listen to the little talking bird. Maduro won the election.

Maduro also said that Chavez went to Heaven and told Jesus to pick a South American Pope. Chavez really has some pull.

Who can blame Maduro for turning to miracles? This bus-driver-turned-politician has, after all, been running the economy on a wing and a prayer. Maduro has cracked down on the shop owners who create long lines outside their stores by refusing to stock their shelves with the products they can no longer buy because their currency is worth less, literally, than toilet paper.

Venezuela has even had to start importing oil, despite its vast supply, from the imperialist pigs up north. When even Cubans look at your country and wince, it may be time to rethink your life choices.

Often dressed in a bright yellow, blue, and red zip up sweatshirt that makes him look like a member of the Romanian Olympic gymnastics team, Maduro lacks the charisma of a dictator and I’m guessing he won’t last as long as Chavez did. As a wise Venezuelan once told me, the problem isn’t that Maduro is a former bus driver; it’s that he doesn’t know how to drive.

maduro

Nicolas Maduro, after perfectly landing a triple back flip with a twist for the Romanian Olympic gymnastics team.

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES (Part 6)

Welcome to part 6 of my 7-part series on dictators, an irreverent guide to some of history’s worst people and part of my effort to bring geopolitics and history to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but are too lazy to read The Economist.

I’ll be releasing a new segment of this essay each week. If you’d like the entire essay now, please join my mailing list and I’ll send it to you. It’s that easy!

Missed part 1? Read it here.

You also missed part 2? Read it here.

Damn, you also missed part 3? What’s up with that? Read it here.

Seriously, you never read part 4? That’s messed up. Read it here.

Part 5, too? What the fuck is wrong with you? Read it here.

Want more laughs? Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of CIA and the War on Terror. One reader “thought it would be funnier,” but agreed it was “still a very enjoyable book.” I hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime, enjoy learning about dictators!

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES

OR

DICTATORS

(Part 6)

Although Africa has proven fertile ground for dictators, some of the most colorful autocrats have called elsewhere home.

Saparmurat Niyazov was better known as Turkmenbashi, and fortunately he ruled Turkmenistan, because with a name like Turkmenbashi it would have been really awkward if he had been dictator of Uzbekistan. He stepped off the authoritarian stage once and for all in 2006, and I imagine Sacha Baron Cohen will play him one day in a biographical movie, combining his personas in the movies The Dictator and Borat.

Turkmenbashi spent a lot of time building gold statues of himself. To keep his subjects from getting lonely, he placed them throughout the country. One rotated 360 degrees every 24 hours, a subtle symbol for the world revolving around him. He renamed days of the week and months of the year after himself and his family members. Some reports even claim he named a meteorite after himself. In fact, it’s a good thing he died because he was on track to name pretty much everything after himself and that would have been confusing at some point.

turkmenbashi

Niyazov had no idea when he came home with his jacket casually thrown over his shoulder that an artist was waiting to sculpt him.

He is one of those lucky dictators who managed to live up to the title President for Life. But despite running unopposed, he won his election with only 99.9 percent of the vote. My guess is the holdout was a sibling who really wanted Saturday to be named for him but who got hump day instead.

Most dictators never face that kind of dissent. Saddam Hussein, for example, was loved by 100 percent of his electorate.

Not currently loved by 100 percent of his electorate is Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. When the Arab Spring began spreading through the region, Assad seemed to have a very difficult time seeing what was going on right in front of him, which was rather ironic for a former ophthalmologist. Looking like the Muppet Beaker with Justin Bieber facial hair, Assad surfed iTunes while his country fell into a brutal civil war. Then he insisted that the Syrian people support the government, which makes me think maybe civil war doesn’t mean what he thinks it does.

Assad’s British-born wife, Asma, has used the civil war as an opportunity to get some online shopping done, since the local malls are all so crowded these days (with rubble). She also appeared to be staying fit, volunteering at a soup kitchen wearing a new fit band (and likely giving someone in Nike’s marketing department a massive headache).

beaker-speaking

Bashar al-Assad giving a TED Talk on “The Power of Delusion” to fellow dictators. He’ll be releasing his own iTunes playlist, “Songs to Enjoy an Arab Spring,” this month.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un is greatly loved. He’s one of those leaders who got 100 percent of the votes in his election. The Brilliant Comrade became the country’s leader after his darling dad perished in December 2011. Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il had ruled for 17 years, with his blown out hair and a penchant for kidnapping filmmakers to help build his country’s film industry. The tiny tyrant wore platform shoes to appear taller and groomed his doughy son to take over.

Kim Jong-Un, who is, intriguingly, the only fat person in North Korea, has made great strides in filling his father’s high-heeled shoes. He quickly purged his top ranks and set about releasing menacing photos designed to show off North Korea’s military might but which succeeded only in proving that North Korea is still working with some early version of Photoshop.

And do you remember a while back when Jennifer Lawrence cut her hair and CNN had a Breaking News Alert to tell us about it? Well, Kim Jong-Un is the JLaw of dictators, because he set the Internet on fire in early 2015 with his new haircut, which looked like it was straight off the practice mannequin of a 1990s hair gel factory. The Chia Pet of Pyongyang also revealed his newly shaped eyebrows, which were shaved to look like small caterpillars nestling on an increasingly fluffy face. I guess someone managed to smuggle a 1991 Vogue into the Hermit Kingdom.

kim-jong-un

A paintbrush dressed as Kim Jong-Un.

Next week: The “Populist” Dictator

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES (Part 5)

Welcome to part 5 of my 7-part series on dictators, an irreverent guide to some of history’s worst people and part of my effort to bring geopolitics and history to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but are too lazy to read The Economist.

I’ll be releasing a new segment of this essay each week. If you’d like the entire essay now, please join my mailing list and I’ll send it to you. It’s that easy!

Missed part 1? Read it here.

You also missed part 2? Read it here.

Damn, you also missed part 3? What’s up with that? Read it here.

Seriously, you never read part 4? That’s messed up. Read it here.

Want more laughs? Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of CIA and the War on Terror. One reader “thought it would be funnier,” but agreed it was “still a very enjoyable book.” I hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime, enjoy learning about dictators!

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES

OR

DICTATORS

(Part 5)

Last week we discussed Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang, the man bold enough to hold the title of Africa’s longest serving dictator.

Hot on Obiang’s tail for the top title is Robert Mugabe, the 92-year-old president of Zimbabwe. Oddly, Mugabe was actually elected, in 1980. He then declared a one-party system, consolidated power, and never looked back.

Mugabe at first received accolades from around the world. Queen Elizabeth II made him an honorary knight in 1994 and numerous western universities bestowed him with honorary degrees.

But then he must have done something to piss people off. On the advice of her foreign minister, the Queen revoked Mugabe’s knight title and all those universities started taking back their diplomas.

It might have been Mugabe’s proud reference to himself as “the Hitler of the time,” or an evenhanded policy called Operation Drive Out Rubbish, in which hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans awoke to the realization that the rubbish being referred to was them and their homes.

Or maybe it was his visionary economic reforms, which included kicking out of southern Africa’s breadbasket nearly every single person who knew anything about farming and led to enviable inflation, which reached 231,000,000 percent in 2008. You needed a wheelbarrow full of cash to buy a loaf of bread. The Zimbabwean dollar was suspended the following year, presumably because the country had run out of zeroes.

But Mugabe has been keen to say he never worried about having his fancy titles taken away. And anyway, in January 2015, he got himself a new fancy title, when he was named chairman of the Africa Union, which aims to promote democratic principles on the continent, principles like freedom of the press.

The timing was serendipitous, because a few days later, while giving a speech in Harare, Mugabe tripped and fell. Only he didn’t, according to his Information Minister, who told the state-run Zimbabwe Herald, “Nobody has shown any evidence of the president having fallen down because that did not happen.”

Except that everyone saw it and captured it on film. So while he tried to stop people from discussing his frailty (He was 91! It happens! And even his Information Minister, while denying the fall, said “even Jesus” would have tripped on the badly laid carpet), he instead drew way more attention to it, and soon a meme was traversing the Internet, in which Mugabe’s fall was made to look like he was playing football, surfing, skateboarding, riding a dragon, and my personal favorite, dancing on Dancing with the Stars.

mugabe-dancing-w-the-stars

Robert Mugabe on Dancing with the Stars, where he captured 99.9 percent of the vote. He hopes the show won’t revoke his Mirror Ball trophy.

 

In my view, Mugabe’s Information Minister missed a great opportunity to explain to the world that Mugabe was simply demonstrating that he invented gravity.

But if his fall and his age have you worried about Zimbabwe’s future, don’t be. Mugabe seems to have a succession plan in place, and her name is Grace. Or DisGrace. Or Gucci Grace. Depends on who you ask. She is a prominent player in Zimbabwe’s leading (only) political party, Zanu-PF. Oh, and I should probably mention: She is Mugabe’s wife.

Grace Mugabe is 42 years younger than her light-footed husband, and she’s no slouch. Despite dropping out of school after failing a correspondence course at the University of London, Grace has shown astounding academic acumen. She earned a PhD in sociology from the University of Zimbabwe in September 2014, just two months after enrolling. Her thesis is so mind blowing that the university refuses to release it because we mere mortals can’t be trusted with that kind of information.

It should be noted that the chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe just happens to be one Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe.

Dr. Grace Mugabe built two palaces. She bought the land for the first one at an 80 percent discount, using a government-housing scheme meant to help low-paid civil servants. To be fair, Grace did start out as Mugabe’s secretary. And she claimed she used her salary as a secretary to build the half-a-million-British-pound home. She later sold it to the Godfather of African Dictators, curly-haired Qaddafi, and pocketed a two-and-a-half-million-pound profit. For that, they should give her a PhD in economics.

She used the profits to build a second palace, called Graceland, because apparently she was hoping to do drugs and gain weight. Graceland served as the backdrop for the three-million-pound wedding of the Mugabes’ daughter. Zimbabweans pushing their wheelbarrows to the bakery must have been thrilled to hear the Mugabes paid for the wedding straight out of the national treasury.

Understandably, Grace seems to think that state-run diamond mines are her own piggy bank. Who else would that money be for? It’s not like the Zimbabwean people should get paid. They obviously don’t have jobs, otherwise they wouldn’t be homeless.

And she is the First Shopper, after all. While her people have their homes bulldozed and search for food on the farms that are no longer producing because all the Mugabes’ best friends are now living there, Grace shops, with trips to London and Paris. Not because she wants to, but because she has “narrow feet” and thus needs special shoes, like those made by Ferragamo.

However, due to U.S. and European Union sanctions on her, Grace now shops in Hong Kong.

Next week: It’s not just Africa…