Exit strategy: Where do deposed dictators go?
Kieron Lang, CTV.ca News
Published Saturday, February 26, 2011 6:15PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 4:02AM EDT
As Moammar Gadhafi desperately clings to power in Libya, protesters' relentless calls for his ouster show no signs of waning. But if they succeed, where might the longtime dictator wind up?
While most people plan for their retirement, the prospect takes on new meaning when you're a dictator controlling the wealth of a nation.
Although some die in office, like North Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh, others are forced to account for their actions in court. Former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor is now in the midst of a trial at the international Criminal Court in the Hague, for example. And Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic was put on trial too, but died in his jail cell of an apparent heart attack. Iraq's Saddam Hussein was also dragged into court, where he was sentenced to hang for his actions.
But one can imagine that most despots, if they ever dream of a future beyond their time as supreme ruler, might prefer to live out their days in a setting more in line with their status and lifestyle.
Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak seems to have done just that, settling in the Egyptian Red Sea coast resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh after he conceded to protesters' demands he abandon politics.
According to the deputy editor of the North African Journal, Mubarak may be able to live in peace there because of the way he left office.
"Although he could have done it more gracefully, Mubarak resigned peacefully with the army guaranteeing the safety of his family and the safety of the Egyptian population," Alessandro Bruno told CTV.ca in a telephone interview Friday.
Given the chaos in Libya, where the army's allegiance and intentions are not entirely clear, combined with Gadhafi's enduring defiance, Bruno believes Gadhafi is unlikely to follow suit.
Nevertheless, if the protesters who already control more than half of Libya have their way, their embattled leader may soon have no choice.
So, where might he go?
Although Hugo Chavez has extended an open invitation for Gadhafi to settle in Venezuela if he chooses, Bruno thinks it an unlikely destination.
"Gadhafi is owed a lot of favours, moneywise, from quite a few African countries – and some of them are still supporting him," Bruno said, suggesting Chad, Mauritania or Uganda as possible destinations.
"I wouldn't even rule out South Africa, because (former president Nelson) Mandela was one of Gadhafi's heroes," Bruno added.
While Tunisia's ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali wound up exiled in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Bruno says the shifting political climate makes Gadhafi's exile in that or any other Arab nation unlikely.
"Given the new climate in the Arab world, I see few opportunities there."
Returning to Mubarak's example, Bruno says Gadhafi does have one small chance to relinquish power while saving face and sparing bloodshed.
"If Gadhafi leaves of his own will, he might actually spare the worst of a possible civil war," Bruno said, explaining that the Libyan population is rife with highly-educated people who would be willing and able to assume control.
"There may already be a government of technocrats in the shadows ready to take over."
Unfortunately, Bruno said Gadhafi's personality seems to preclude his quietly bowing out of the spotlight.
"He's a narcissist," he explained, likening Gadhafi to a villain from a James Bond film. "He has done things and approved of things that are truly baffling."
But, if Gadhafi is researching his 'retirement' options, he might be well-advised to study some contemporaries who chose exile rather than face the wrath of their former subjects.
Where have other deposed dictators gone?
- Overwhelmed by a wave of popular protest, Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in mid-January, 2011. There have since been reports he had a stroke, fell into a coma and died.
- After second-generation dictator Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier was overthrown in a popular uprising in 1986, he was offered political asylum in Paris, where he lived until his surprise return to Haiti in January 2011.
- Following his ouster in a popular uprising in 1986, Ferdinand Marcos wound up in Honolulu, Hawaii after Ronald Reagan granted the former Philippines president safe haven there.
- Lieutenant General Raoul Cedras led the coup that overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. Three years later, Cedras was persuaded by U.S. President Bill Clinton to restore civilian rule in Haitin and wound up in exile in Panama City, Panama.
- After his country's collapse in 1990, the last leader of communist East Germany, Erich Honecker, fled first to Moscow and then to Santiago, Chile where he died on cancer in 1994.
- When his regime was overthrown in the 1979 Sandinista insurrection, Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza was denied entry to his destination of choice, Miami. He was welcomed in Paraguay, however, where he lived until his assassination in 1980.
- After 45 years in power, Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner was overthrown in a military coup and fled to Brazil, where he died of a stroke in 2006.
- Stanuchly anti-communist dictator Mobuto Seso Seko ruled Congo, with U.S. backing, for 32 years before he was overthrown by a rebel uprising in 1997. He fled first to Togo, but settled in Morocco where he soon died of cancer.
- Although former warlord Charles Taylor abandoned Liberia in a deal that granted him immunity and a villa in Nigeria, he was nevertheless extradited to face trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague for his part in Sierra Leone's bloody civil war.