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Power is often seen as a constant, something that will always remain in place. However, history has shown us that this is not always the case. Despots and dictators, who hold a great deal of power, are often surprised when they are eventually deposed.
In a world seeking to right the wrongs of dictators with significant proven allegations of crimes against humanity, it has not been unusual to see indictments filed against some of these horrible perpetrators. On the basis of an arrest warrant issued by a judge in Spain, British authorities held General Augusto Pinochet, the former head of state of Chile, on Spanish charges of crimes against humanity, including genocide and terrorism, that were alleged to have occurred during Pinochet’s rule in Chile. Pinochet was detained while he was in London for medical treatment. He held a diplomatic passport, but that did not necessarily mean that he had diplomatic immunity. Such immunity stems from the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which provides that “The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention.” But a “diplomatic agent” under the Vienna Convention is defined as “the head of the mission or a member of the diplomatic staff of the mission.
Similarly, The Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, was charged with war crimes over the conflict in Darfur, becoming the first sitting head of state issued with an arrest warrant by the international criminal court (ICC). The court, based in The Hague, upheld the request of the chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, to charge Bashir with war crimes and crimes against humanity. More than 200,000 people died since 2003 in the country’s western Darfur region.
One of the reasons for the surprise of despots when they are faced with such actions is that power tends to insulate them from the reality of the world around them. They may surround themselves with yes-men and sycophants who tell them what they want to hear, rather than providing honest feedback. This can lead to a false sense of security, where the dictator believes that their hold on power is unshakable.
Another reason is that those in power invariably become complacent, believing that their position is secure and that they do not need to make any significant changes to maintain it. They may also become arrogant, believing that they are above the laws that govern others. This can lead to a lack of attention to the needs and concerns of the people they govern, which can ultimately lead to a loss of support and a weakening of their grip on power.
Additionally, the use of force and repression and the full powers of the state to maintain power can lead to sustained resistance from the oppressed. In the case of Guyana, a plethora of allegations, widely ventilated in the media, has linked former President Jagdeo to extrajudicial killings, corruption and several other crimes that emanate from his alleged obsession with power and reckless rule. Despite his careful construction of an image of the visionary of a new Guyana, questions and allegations continue to swirl around him. For the former president, fortunes can change once he no longer serves the interests of his American handlers who are well aware of his many alleged criminal acts. Roger Khan’s testimony which is still sealed along with a number of intelligence reports filed during his tenure can no doubt support an international action to hold him accountable.
Power is not a constant and those who hold it must always be aware of the shifting sands upon which it rests. Despots and dictators who believe that their power is unshakable and unassailable may ultimately be surprised when they are deposed. The lesson for leaders is to always be responsive to the needs and concerns of the people they govern, and avoid becoming insulated, complacent, or arrogant. Unfortunately the empirical evidence of rising poverty in Guyana despite the increased revenue from oil sales and the evident public arrogance of the Head of State as he publicly insults his “subjects” portend a contentious future for Guyana.