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Where Dictators Go After Losing Power

Feb 9, 2019
Originally published on February 9, 2019 8:52 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Refugees continue to flee Venezuela this weekend. Idle oil refineries and U.S. sanctions mean the country could run out of gas within the month. And yet President Nicolas Maduro shows no signs of resigning. Dozens of countries, including the United States, Canada, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, France and the U.K., now recognize Juan Guaido, the opposition leader, as interim president. We turn now to Moises Naim. He's a distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy for many years and Venezuela's minister of trade for one year - 1989 to 1990. He has a weekly column read all over the world. Thanks so much for being with us.

MOISES NAIM: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: If President Maduro wanted to resign, where could he go?

NAIM: Cuba, Iran, the - Russia - dictator - he has many friends among the world's dictators.

SIMON: Has it become harder for dictators or so-called strongmen, strong persons, to just leave power?

NAIM: Absolutely. They used to end up there in the French Riviera and big mansions in Europe. Now they tend to also end up in Europe but not in big mansions but in the criminal court - in The Hague.

SIMON: And has that had the effect of making it more difficult sometimes to get rid of certain people?

NAIM: Absolutely. They are - they don't trust now any promises that they will not be prosecuted or taken in front of a judge. And also, you know, the standards of human rights internationally have changed. And there is a very active community - globally - that chases after dictators and people that have violated human rights and have committed the crimes against humanity, which is the case for many of them.

SIMON: Now, isn't the logic of that - the humanitarian logic of that - that knowing they might have to face criminal charges will discourage dictators from striking out at their own people?

NAIM: Absolutely. But strangely enough, we see that continuing to happen. We don't know how many thought about it and decided not to do it because they were fearful of being prosecuted internationally. But we do know that there are still many that go ahead with all kinds of crimes and violations of human rights. And Nicolas Maduro is a paramount example of that.

SIMON: What about people who work for somebody who's in power and might not get the same guarantees?

NAIM: Well, the problem with the guarantees is that who gives them? Because now there is a highly fragmented global community of attorneys, of activists, of non-governmental organizations and foundations that can't initiate proceedings against these people. Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet felt very safe in, you know, in a trip to Europe. And all of a sudden, he was taken into custody unexpectedly by a judge in Spain. And so, you know, no one today can offer foolproof guarantees to dictators that they will not be prosecuted once they are out of power or even if they are still in power.

SIMON: If you take a look, for example, at Syria, have we seen that at play?

NAIM: Yeah. Well, in Syria remember; we - the international community thought that Bashar al-Assad was gone and that his days were counted. And he's still there.

SIMON: Yeah. In part, you believe, because he has no place to go?

NAIM: In part of that. But in part surely is because he got a lifeline from the - from Russia, from Vladimir Putin - that the sudden presence of Russia as a player in a process that had been dominated by the United States and Europe. And all of a sudden, Vladimir Putin became a spoiler of that. And today, it's impossible to imagine a deal in Syria that does not include Russia and Vladimir Putin at the table.

SIMON: Moises Naim was also a contributing editor of The Atlantic. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

NAIM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.