Geriatric Tyrants

Fidel Castro is still hanging on in Cuba, and half way around the world, Robert Mugabe continues to inflict disaster on the people of Zimbabwe. Tyrants don’t live forever, but sometimes it seems that way. During the mid-1980s, a woman I knew went to Florida to watch the Twins in spring training. The Twins had a lot of Cuban fans then; I think they still do. She met an elderly Cuban refugee couple who told her that they had a bottle of good champagne, which they were saving until either a) the Tyrant died, or b) the Twins won the World Series. At the time, we both thought they would be long gone before either event transpired, but the Twins’ miracle finish in 1987 probably let them pop the cork.
When Paul and I were college seniors, we roomed with a guy I’ll call Mike W., who was a sophomore. Mike was a great guy, and quite a bit more flamboyant than Paul and me–which, admittedly, isn’t saying much. He dated a lion tamer for a while, and eventually married an Ethiopian princess. (Really.) That’s what brought him to Africa. He spent six months in an Ethiopian prison after the commies took over, temporarily, but after he got out he stayed in Africa for quite a while.
Mike went to what was then Rhodesia and hooked up with Mugabe’s rebel army, which was hanging out in the jungle. At first, he was a war correspondent. Among other things, he did a profile on Mugabe for People magazine.
I’m sure it was much like Castro’s early press coverage: flattering. Castro was young, vigorous, a breath of “progress” and fresh air after the “corrupt” Batista. We didn’t know anything about Batista except that he was corrupt, but at least he didn’t run Cuba into the ground the way Castro did. And, speaking of corruption, Castro turned out to be one of history’s greatest thieves.
Likewise with Mugabe. Everyone disapproved of Rhodesia on racial grounds, but at least, before Mugabe, armed gangs of thugs weren’t going around the country dispossessing farmers of their land. Now, decades of misrule have brought Zimbabwe to the bottom of the African barrel.
Mike got to be friends with Mugabe, and when Mugabe took over the country he was a member of Mugabe’s original cabinet. It wasn’t long, though, before he realized that Mugabe was a glorified criminal and left Zimbabwe forever. Most Zimbabweans didn’t have that option. Mugabe had been inflicted on them to the acclaim of the international press and the “world community,” and they had to live with the consequences.
What brings all of this to mind is news accounts of the latest repression in Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe’s most prominent opposition leader was seriously injured — with deep gashes on his head and shoulders — from beatings and torture by police who broke up a public meeting that had been declared illegal, colleagues said yesterday.
Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the Movement for Democratic Change, was in a suburban jail, said his wife, Susan, who was allowed to visit a day after he was detained at Sunday’s meeting of the “Save Zimbabwe Campaign.” She said some of her husband’s wounds had been sutured and heavily bandaged, and one eye was badly swollen.

Here is more:

Rights groups say Mr Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, and others were tortured after a prayer meeting on Sunday organised by opposition, church and civic groups to protest Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis.
Under Mugabe inflation is 1,700 per cent, unemployment is 80 per cent, there are chronic shortages of food and fuel and dissent is ruthlessly crushed.
Police had ordered organisers to scrap Sunday’s meeting, apparently worried that mounting opposition to 83-year-old Mugabe’s rule is leading to a popular move to oust him.

Castro, like Mugabe, is in his 80s and in very poor health. All I can say is: they can’t die too soon.
If you’re curious, by the way, Mike W. eventually became a Taoist sexologist. But that’s another story.
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