January 20, 2011

Sudan President El-Ferik Ibrahim Abboud visits Scotland, 1964.

Sudan President El-Ferik Ibrahim Abboud visits Scotland, 1964.

South American caudillos, apart from being great dressers—I loved their jackboots, Buster Brown belts, and beautifully waisted uniforms—all died peacefully in bed or in neighboring countries. Stroessner, Peron, Galtieri, Pinochet, RIP. The only North American dictator, FDR, died in the saddle cuddling his mistress in Warm Springs, GA. Greek dictators have also fared well. Pangalos, Plastiras, Metaxas died at home, George Papadopoulos in a prison hospital. Tony Blair and George Brown, two quasi-Scottish dictators, are walking around free giving speeches and making lotsa moolah. The Brits are very civilized, if a tad stupid.

The Libyan dictator plans to pass his omnipotent powers to one of his sons. Qaddafi has been in power since September 1st, 1969, which must make his dictatorial rule one of the longest ever. The Libyans don’t seem to mind. They are a great people, a warrior race, the only ones the glorious Italian armies defeated back in the 30s. So admirable was the Italian victory over this Spartan-like race, some of Mussolini’s ministers took Libyan names for their titles. I am thinking of my childhood friend Giovanni Volpi, whose father was Il Duce’s finance minister, and who took the title Count Volpi of Misurata when Benito more or less ordered the king to grant him a handle. (Misurata is a Libyan city on the Mediterranean.) 

And do it goes. Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista lived out his days in Spain after Castro drove him out, but his eldest son, Reuben, had no such luck. He ended up in the same house as yours truly at boarding school. When the CIA overthrew Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz in the 1950s, it cost me a beautiful girl. Bella Arbenz hated the Yanks in general and the spooks in particular. Like a fool I defended them one night in Paris just as she had agreed to play house with me. How was I supposed to know she was the deposed president’s daughter? She not only threw me out, she also flung some yellow liquid as I stood underneath her window begging to be allowed back in.

My favorite strongman was president Abboud of the Sudan. He was a popular and decent general who was invited to assume power in 1956. His only bad habit was picking his nose just before shaking my hand as I visited him once a week to hand him an envelope from my father.



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