This Year's Ten Worst Dictators
BILL WOLFF (Announcer): This is NPR.
ALISON STEWART, host:
Well, two of the big news stories Rachel leads us to our next segment today. There's a list of the world's worst dictators features annually in Parade magazine. And Raul Castro who's been running Cuba since 2006 is at number 18. now another leader in the news today, as you mentioned, Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. He ranks in at number seven. Among the actions that earned him that spot - suspending his country's constitution, ordering the arrest of dissidents.
Now there are more than 70 dictators world wide. But to get on this list, you have to have not only aments power but also be responsible for other things - torturing citizens, oppressing press' free speech, detaining opposition.
David Wallechinsky writes the list every year. So David, you were here with us yesterday to discussing the Beijing Olympics and Steven Spielberg's withdrawal from the games in response to China's ties with Sudan. There was a crossover there because the Chinese president as well as Sudan's president were on your list at number five and two, respectively. So we thought we dipped our toe in this water, so we want to go a little further with you. How are you?
Mr. DAVID WALLECHINSKY (Author, The World's 10 Worst Dictators): I'm very well, thank you.
STEWART: Let's get your take on today's big news. Who knew that we would ask you to come back yesterday and this would be the news of the day that Fidel Castro is officially retiring as president of Cuba. His brother Raul has been running the country since '06. He's at number 18 on your worst dictators list. Why?
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: Well, first of all, I started - when I first started doing this list in 2003, Fidel was in the top 10. And then he began to drift down to the second 10 because his power lessened. And one of the factors I take into account is just how much power the dictator has. And so then it became unclear who was in charge and then, you know, finally we saw that it was Raul.
This is still very much a dictatorship, and by putting them of Raul at 18, I don't mean to make him look good.
STEWART: Right, right.
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: It's just that there's a lot of guys who are really worst.
STEWART: Well let's talk about some of those other folks. A lot of people paying attention to Africa this week because, obviously, President Bush is there. There are three African leaders on the list. We mentioned the President of Sudan, at number six is Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and the President of Eritrea Isayas Afewerki. I think I'm saying that correctly.
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: Mm-hmm.
STEWART: Now, Mugabe has been in power the longest of anybody on your lists since 1980, but he didn't start out as a problem. Now, he's country's in tremendous economic trouble. What did he or didn't he do?
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: Well, what's tragic about Mugabe is that when he, you know, he was one of the liberation leaders. Like in South Africa, you had Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe for Zimbabwe which was then known as Rhodesia. He was one of the people who led this idea where we're going to have black African independence and so there was a lot of hope for him. But as soon as he took over, it became really clear fast, that he was into it for himself. And he got even with everybody who had ever been mean to him. He took an economy which was quite strong. Lot of resources in Zimbabwe and he just drove that economy into the ground. You have an annual inflation rate - catch this - of 8,000 percent and going up.
STEWART: Eight thousand percent?
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: Yeah. I've seen these great pictures of, you know, huge piles of money to buy a bottle of beer.
MARTIN: That's like one of the highest inflation rate in the world.
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: Talk about I have to carry in the sack on your back.
STEWART: Yeah. Let's talk about Eritrean because it's in the news as well. Certainly not getting as much play as some other international new stories, but right now, over the weekend, 1,700 U.N. peace keepers, they're affectively stranded on the boarder between Ethiopia and Eritrea - which have been, they've been engaging in this war over boarders and these U.N. peace keepers are there with little food and little fuel. So in terms of Afewerki's involvement with this, why does he have them stranded and how does he retain power?
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: Well, here again, this is an interesting situation because in this sense he's like a younger version of Mugabe which was that he led a liberation struggle and then once he got power, he wouldn't let it go. And, you know, last year - I mean this year, Reporters Without Borders gave him the distinction as the government that most oppresses journalists, even worse than Kim Jong-il of North Korea, which is quite an achievement. And you know, he has, you know, simply not allow to any privately owned media, no national elections. There's a constitution but he refused to implement it, even though it was created more than 10 years ago. And he and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia who worked together to liberate their countries have now used each other, they fight each other, which allows them to oppress their own people by saying, hey, those peoples are going to get you if you don't back me.
STEWART: There are several names on the list I think people would recognize just from events of the past year. Than Shwe of Burma, Myanmar, at number three. For the headlines: the military action against pro-democracy, demonstrations led my monks. We covered that pretty extensively on this show. Ali - let me make sure I say this right - Khamenei?
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: Khamenei, yeah.
STEWART: Khamenei. Thank you. I always get the…
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: Ayatolah Khamenei of Iran.
STEWART: Iran for public hangings and persecuting dissenters. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at number four. Despite our relationship with them, you know, we sell them arms, they sell us oil. You sight the lack of crack down on terrorists, correct?
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: Yes. I mean there's this - well, you know, obviously he doesn't want to be over thrown by al-Qaida himself. But you look at Iraq and, you know, the majority of foreign fighters in Iraq are actually from Saudi Arabia. And you would think that that would be, you know, the responsibility of the head of the country to crack down on them.
STEWART: Now, there's a name on the list that may not be familiar to a lot of people. Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, at number nine. Explain to us, who he is, and tell him why the power he wields when it comes to U.S. Policy.
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: Well, Islam Karimov was fortunate that he was the head of Uzbekistan when the Soviet Union broke down. So he was in the right place at the right time, and then he took advantage of the old style Soviet methods to stay in power - ordered the massacre of non-violent demonstrators a couple of years ago in Andijan. Hundreds of people killed. But, you know, he - when 9/11 happened, it was like a dream come true for him because the United States came to him - Uzbekistan as an 85 mile boarder with Afghanistan. And so he allowed the U.S. to use an Uzbek airbase and then kick the Americans out - kick us out when the U.S. government criticized his crack down on these demonstrators. But we continue, actually, to - you know, our imports form Uzbekistan have doubled because he has Uranium which we use for nuclear power plants, nuclear weapons, armor piercing weapons, etcetera.
STEWART: Number one, not a huge surprise, Kim Jong-Il, but he wasn't number one last year. Did one specific thing happen this year that vaulted him to number one?
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: A little bit of chaos in Sudan. Omar al-Bashir is a terrible person in Sudan. But he has quite - doesn't have the control that Kim Jong-Il has over his people. I actually visited North Korea last year.
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: Which was quite an experience, and I was stunned by the total control that he has over everything that the North Korean people think. They had no idea what's going on in the outside world at all.
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: I've seen a lot of oppressive governments. I've been to a lot of oppressive, you know, countries like that. But this was overwhelmingly the most oppressive I've seen.
STEWART: David Wallechinsky wrote The Worlds Worst Dictators List in Parade magazine. Hey, David, thanks for joining us again.
Mr. WALLECHINSKY: Thank you, any time.