4 of the craziest dictators in history
From golden statues and ice palaces, to rigged elections and voodoo, these dictators took crazy to whole new levels.Peter Iantorno January 22, 2015
The words "crazy" and "dictator" often follow one another, yet there are some dictators throughout history who have gone over and above the normal level of quirkiness and strayed well into the realms of complete and utter madness.
Unfortunately a list of bonkers leaders throughout history who ruled with an iron first could go on into the dozens, so here we've decided to focus on four who flirted particularly closely with insanity:
Rafael Trujillo, Dominican Republic
Think the nepotism in your workplace is bad? Just be thankful that you weren't a citizen of the Dominican Republic circa 1930. This was the year that Rafael Trujillo (also known as "El Jefe", or "the boss") seized control of the Dominican Republic.
Anybody hoping for a reign of truth and fairness was quickly set straight, when Trujillo won a landslide election to gain power, in which he received more votes than there were registered voters. El Jefe quickly set about stamping his authority on the country, renaming the capital city, various roads, bridges, buildings and even the country's highest peak after himself.
Sure enough, he continued in the same corrupt and egotistical vein, appointing his three-year-old son, Ramfis, as a colonel in the military, and also crowning his 16-year-old daughter "Queen Angelita", as part of a wildly expensive and ostentatious event in 1955 to celebrate his 25 years in power.
Rather dreamily called "The Fair of Peace and Fraternity of the Free World", the event is thought to have cost some $30 million (a third of the country's annual budget at the time), $80,000 of which was spent on his daughter's dress, which was lavishly adorned with 600 Russian stoat furs and had a 23-metre white satin train.
Often seen with a chest full of medals in order to paint himself as military hero, El Jefe ruled the country with an iron first for some 31 years until he was assassinated in an ambush that was rumored (although nothing has been proven) to be supported by the CIA.
Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan
After the break up of the Soviet Union in 1990, Saparmurat Atayevich was the single ruler of Turkmenistan, banning all opposition to his authority and stamping out any elements of freedom of speech within the country.
Among his many crackpot decisions, he decreed that all ballet and opera would be banned, men were forbidden from listening to car radios, having beards or long hair, and anyone with gold teeth should have them extracted. True to the stereotype of a crazy dictator, he wasn't afraid to impose his views on others, and he even wrote a book containing a collection of his thoughts, which was made required reading in the school curriculum and also needed to be memorised in order to gain a driving licence.
He frequently used the vast wealth of the oil-rich country to service his hair-brained schemes and shows of power. Notably, he commissioned a huge solid gold statue of himself to be installed on top of a building in the capital, Ashgabat, which would rotate so it was always facing the sun.
He also built a massive manmade lake in the Kara Kum desert, a 40-metre-tall pyramid and a giant ice palace, despite temperatures in the country regularly topping 40°C in summer. Although his life was plagued by numerous assassination attempts, he survived them all, and finally passed away in 2006 after suffering a heart attack.
François Duvalier, Haiti
Prior to becoming the president of Haiti in 1957, François Duvalier was a physician practicing in his hometown of Port-au-Prince, helping to fight against contagious diseases and earning himself the fond nickname of "Papa Doc". However, this is where the good work done by Duvalier ends, as once he came to power, he held a reign of fear and repression over the citizens of the Caribbean country, forcing his will on all who resided there.
During his reign, in which he took the title of "President For Life", Duvalier portrayed himself as something of a demigod to the Haitian people, even changing the lyrics to the Lord's Prayer to include a mention of himself. He also claimed that he had special voodoo powers, which made him invincible. It's often said that people can go mad with power, but in the case of Papa Doc, while he was undoubtedly a bad apple, some of his crazy actions can probably be explained by the heart attack he suffered in 1959, which sent him into a nine-hour coma and is thought to have caused brain damage, leaving him paranoid and mentally unstable.
On awakening for the coma, he ordered that Clément Barbot, the man who'd taken temporary charge of the country, should be captured and killed. During the search for Bardot, for some reason Duvalier started to believe that Bardot has "transformed" into a black dog, so he ordered all black dogs to be rounded up and killed.
Through a mix of propaganda and ruthless retribution for anyone daring enough to oppose him, he held power until his death in 1971, when his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude, succeeded him. Unfortunately, he wasn't much better.
Kim Jong Il, North Korea
With all the trouble between the US and North Korea over the high-profile release of The Interview, we were tempted not to the include their former leader Kim Jong Il in this list, but looking at some of the bonkers stuff he's been responsible for over the years, we simply couldn't leave him out.
Taking control of the country in 1998 after his father's death, Kim Jong Il, and especially his crazy policies, has been the subject of so many rumours, it's hard to separate fact from fiction. While the majority of his country was starving from famine, their leader was indulging his penchant for brandy and sushi, spending an estimated $1 million per year on importing Hennessy and blue fin tuna.
He also imposed strict rules on the country's educating system, teaching children that he neither urinated nor defecated, and that he held the sublime power to control the weather according to his mood at the time.
With an appalling human rights record and a dangerous obsession with nuclear weapons, many saw it as a blessing when he died in December 2011, however, his successor, youngest son Kim Jong Un, has carried on in the same insane vein as his father.