Dictators and the smell of money

As a tyrannical dictator is ousted in Tunisia don't lose sight of another who has returned to Haiti to cash in on the billions of aid dollars...and meanwhile back in Canada, relatives of the Tunisian are moving in to my neighbourhood! 

Well there goes the neighbourhood.

It turns out relatives of Tunisia’s ousted dictator Zine Al Abidine Ben-Ali have moved in a couple of streets away in our gorgeous quiet, tree-lined suburb of Westmount, Montreal.

To be completely fair they haven’t yet moved in as their $2.5m stone four-storey bolt-hole is still undergoing renovations, and all reports are the undesirables are currently in a downtown hotel.

It has all proven a little tricky for the Canadian Government which, over the past few days has been denying reports that some of the Ben-Alis have fled to these fair shores.

Now it has had to confirm that indeed one of the ousted Tunisian President’s brothers-in-law jetted in on a private plane – as you do – not seeking asylum, but because they hold permanent resident cards, and therefore have a legal right to be here.

When rumours first surfaced that Canada was their refuge of choice Harper’s government was quick to make clear members of the deposed family were not welcome in Canada. The government is also claiming to be monitoring airlines to make sure other rellies don’t sneak in, all raising one of the dilemmas for governments of countries in which citizens are able to hold more than one passport.

Were the branch of the Ben-Ali’s with real estate in Montreal not citizens, they would as Tunisians have had to be granted visas, and given what is being uncovered 6,500kms away, their chances of success would have (hopefully) been less than zilch.

But these guys bought their house in 2008, and it has remained pretty much empty since then.

It sits amidst many other gorgeous stone mansions in a very exclusive street and although it would hardly match up to the sort of digs nepotistic plunderers of state treasuries would be used to, it is not exactly slumming it either.

Surely however there are now questions over who actually financed the purchase of the Montreal home a couple of years ago.

If it was paid for courtesy of the financial abuse by Ben-Ali and kin, it only seems reasonable it should be sold and the money returned to the brave citizens of Tunisia.

Already more than thirty of the extended Ben-Ali family – those who didn’t manage to escape to Saudi Arabia or Canada – are under arrest on suspicion of crimes against Tunisia after authorities say they caught them with gold and jewellery. The Swiss, French and German authorities have moved to freeze the dictator’s ‘assets’ in their respective countries.

Tunisians who either fled repression, or were born in Canada to Tunisian exile parents are demanding that those who arrived over the weekend be sent back to face justice. Montreal hosts half of the Tunisian immigrants in Canada and they are gearing up for a fight, particularly now they have a tangible focus within their midst and a government that does not want to be seen to be in cahoots with such an ugly dictatorship.

Which brings us to yet another dictator who can’t seem to resist the smell of other people’s money, but it is safe to say played his most stupid hand in the last week.

Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier must have been severely affected by all that facial surgery he so obviously has had while in exile in Paris, to the point that he and his equally (and scarily) wrinkle-free companion appeared to expect to be welcomed back to Haiti after twenty-five years in exile.

He rocked in to Port-Au-Prince with the aim of returning to political power and of course to save his country.

Coincidently Haiti is awash with international aid dollars which are obviously still to be spent, and the small country is in political turmoil after hugely disputed presidential elections.

Baby Doc’s calculations were as obvious as the dollar signs in the eyes of Scrooge McDuck.

His cunning plan = go back because the earthquake has destroyed all the evidence against me; the people are too preoccupied with eking out an existence to dwell on old tales of torture, assassinations, pillaging, arbitrary detentions, grinding poverty, lack of education or health facilities or general infrastructure; they will force new elections which I will win because I still have a sphere of influence that will aid my ‘election’; and, I will be rich again as I spend the billions on me.

Not possible?  Think of the growth in the number of impoverished and desperate Russians who pine for Stalin, or the increasing number of Europeans who have turned to the ideology of the neo-Nazis as an answer to their joblessness and general despair and hate of immigrants.

So far Baby Doc’s plan has backfired, because he has been charged with crimes relating to his repressive reign which readily kidnapped, tortured or killed opponents. But it is going to take extraordinary fortitude on the part of the struggling current authorities in Haiti and the individuals who have filed criminal charges to follow through the legal minefield of poor documentation and arguments over expired statutes of limitations.

The international community has a responsibility to further assist in whatever way it can to ensure this tyrant doesn’t just add to the turmoil within Haiti and then, in a macabre twist, get rich from it.

It would be an unparalleled abuse if, after all they have suffered, Haitians are delivered back into the hands of the monster they managed to oust just as the world is witnessing – and applauding – the Jasmine Revolution in which Tunisians appear to have freed themselves from a remarkably similar violent and looting regime.