Pepper discovers more dumbos who unwittingly changed history with their greed and unbridled selfishness. In Part 3, he takes his dear daughter with him back in time to carve a tale about two nitwits from the Americas.
I hope you are enjoying the stories that I have been writing to you regarding the nitwits who changed history. In this letter, I will be exposing two more nitwits for your reading pleasure – one from Haiti and the other, Peru. I hope this part, like its predecessors, will help hone your skills in picking the right boyfriend in future.
Haiti’s Nitwit: The President’s Wife and His Advisors
Once upon a time, there was a small island off the coast of the USA called Haiti.
Haiti was a poor island that depended on tourism for most of its income. Its people were largely uneducated and superstitious (Haiti is famous for its voodoo practices). In 1946, a politician named Francois Duvalier became very popular in fighting diseases that threatened the island. The Haitians gave him the nickname ‘Papa Doc’ and he was later elected the president of Haiti out of popularity. Despite such a huge mandate from his fellow citizens, he ruled Haiti with an iron fist, one that instilled fear into everyone.
Now, Papa Doc was quite a walking contradiction. While he graduated as a doctor from the University of Haiti, he was surprisingly steeped in superstition. He was such a superstitious man that when he was told that his political nemesis had “transformed into a black dog”, he ordered all the black dogs in Haiti to be put to death!
When he died in 1971, his 19-year-old son, nicknamed ‘Baby Doc’, took over the reigns of power.
This young man, a law graduate from the University of Haiti, did little to improve the feared and hated regime created by his father. Instead of upholding laws, he broke them. Instead of tending to the needs of his people, he lived a lavish lifestyle at their expense. And while his people lived in continued abject poverty, he spent US$3 million on his wedding. That is an estimated US$8 million in today’s money.
Unable to contain their anger and disappointment any longer, the people of Haiti staged a revolt in the city of Gonaives (a small city in the north) in 1985. Baby Doc’s wife and advisors urged him to put down the revolt so he could remain in office. If Baby Doc had done the right thing – i.e, used his power and position to effect positive changes in his country – things would have been different for Haiti. It might even have emulated Belgium in her success. (Belgium was a country roughly the same size as Haiti, after all). Instead, the egoistical lawyer listened to his wife and the advisors. He shut down independent radio stations and ordered the police and army to crack down on dissidents.
This move further angered the Haitians. Revolts broke out in other parts of Haiti and the turmoil intensified to a point where both the police and army could no longer control or contain the chaos. Baby Doc was forced to flee Haiti a year later in 1986 and fled to France. (Haiti was once a French colony). The 2004 Global Transparency Report placed him in 6th place on the list of the World’s Most Corrupt Leaders.
In 2011, Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier returned to Haiti in the middle of the country’s general elections. Two days later, he was arrested by the Haitian police on charges of corruption, theft and the misappropriation of funds committed during his 15-year presidency.
If he had been a good leader who worked for the betterment of his people, he would have been welcomed home as a hero. Instead, he was shamefully arrested and summoned to court for crimes he had committed as the president of Haiti. How would Haiti’s history have played out if Baby Doc had not listened to his wife? Who knows? He divorced her in 1990.
Peru’s Nitwit: The President’s Right-hand Man
Once upon a time, there also lived a little boy named Alberto. Alberto was a Peruvian of Japanese descent. I can imagine he must have been teased incessantly in school for looking different from the other children.
Alberto came from a poor family but he studied hard and graduated as an agricultural engineer in 1961. After graduation, he taught at the university until 1987. You could say he was an academician. Then, one day, he saw poverty-stricken Peruvians suffering. He saw hyperinflation eating away at his country. And he saw the escalating drug-trafficking problem. So, he decided to do something about it.
He decided to run for president.
In 1990, he took the plunge. He was nicknamed ‘El Chino’ (Chinaman). His campaign called for ‘cambio’ (change). And boy, did the Peruvians badly want the change that he offered them! Against all odds, this newcomer to Peru’s political scene – a Japanese who did not look Peruvian AND a politician from a new political party – won the presidential elections!
As president, Alberto set about to devise many changes that would benefit Peru and its people. However, two of the most difficult challenges he faced were terrorism and drug-trafficking. Peru was gripped by terrorist groups, namely the Shining Path and Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), both of which had wanted to overthrow the Peruvian government and implement communism. These aggressors killed officials and set off bombs in the cities to pressure the government into giving into their demands. Alberto then appointed someone with experience in counter-terrorism to help him quash the groups, a man named Vladimiro Montesinos. Now, Vladimiro was given a free hand to fight terrorism and he used Peru’s military might to do just that.
But here’s the thing. Instead of focusing his counter-attacks on the terrorists, Vladimiro eventually used his power to subjugate civilians. He gradually gained control 6 of the 7 TV stations in Peru. He harassed Alberto’s political opponents. He killed and bribed anyone that could and would help him get his way. And he detained his detractors without trial.
President Alberto should have acted immediately and culled Vladimiro even though he was his trusted general. But no, he chose to turn a blind eye to the power-crazed terrorist before him. Of course, this only made Vladimiro all the bolder. He often secretly recorded videos of himself in the act of bribing or receiving bribes, just so he could later use the material to blackmail his victims.
One day, one of these videos leaked out and was broadcast by one of the TV stations for all Peruvians to see! Then, more videos began to surface. One showed Vladimiro bribing a TV station with US$500,000 a month to deny his political opponents airtime. Another showed him offering US$1.5 million for the same request. Yet another showed him counting US$350,000 in cash to coerce an investigative TV show into cancelling an episode that shone a light on wrongdoings connected to him.
What started out as weapons of blackmail soon became dirty trails that led back to Alberto himself!
Vladimiro Montesinos, Alberto’s right-hand, was later arrested and sentenced to the Callao Maximum Security Prison. (Ironically, this prison was built by Vladimiro himself!)
Meanwhile, Alberto Fujimori fled the country and lived safely beyond the clutches of the Peruvian police for many years. He returned to Peru to run in the 2006 elections but was promptly arrested and put on trial. He was found guilty of embezzlement, corruption and human rights violations (he had ordered people to be killed), and subsequently sentenced to 25 years in prison. Transparency International has listed Fujimori’s government as the 7th most corrupt in their Global Corruption Report 2004.
Malaysia’s GE13 and the Candidate for Nitwit
I was at the launch of Professor Andrew Harding’s book entitled The Constitution of Malaysia: A Contextual Analysis at the Pusat Rakyat LB last week. When the floor was opened for discussion, Bersih’s chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan told the audience that the SPR was actually appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and must therefore “enjoy public confidence”. Then she asked for a show of hands of those (in the audience) who were confident of our SPR. Only Uncle Edmund put up his hand, much to the amusement of the attendees.
It is true, no one is confident of the SPR. When Tindak Malaysia and various election watchdogs approached them about discrepancies in the electoral role and alleged the existence of pengundi hantu, they were rather nonchalant about it.
Then Uncle Lingswaran took to the floor and chided everyone for merely “talking” about the problems in the country instead of taking real action. He made some points that hit home. Why are we waiting to vote when we are not confident that the coming elections will be clean, he asked. We should talk less and act more, he said angrily. I suppose I echo his sentiments. I too suspect certain political parties will rig the coming elections to win it. Ambiga assured the audience that Bersih was doing all they could, short of a violent uprising. To that end, she said the latest effort focused on getting every Malaysian out to vote on voting day.
Uncle Lingswaran’s fiery pronouncements reminded me of the many elections in history that were rigged and dirty. For instance, in 1930, the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo won the presidential elections by a landslide. But it was later revealed that he had received thousands more votes than there were voters!
Retired judge, Mahadev Shankar, added something interesting too. He said that he wished he had done more to make our country better when he was younger. He had lived through the 1988 judiciary crisis and again in 2007’s “correct-correct-correct” judiciary crisis – two shameful episodes in Malaysia’s judiciary history.
Dear Paprika, sometimes we do not get to choose our destinies like Baby Doc. And other times, our impossible dreams come true like Alberto’s did. If you are given the chance to lead, be a good leader and leave a legacy worth remembering instead of one that people will want to spit on. There might have been a time when heads of states could escape prosecution but that no longer holds true today. People want good leaders who are constantly working to give them a better life, not someone who will oppress them or take advantage of them.
Lastly, do your best in everything you do. I will always be proud of you. (Do make sure your boyfriend isn’t a nitwit, will you?)
Your loving father,
(Featured image accompanying article on main page courtesy of Andrew Barclay, source: http://bit.ly/XKgNDw)