Adolf Hitler, Chairman Mao, Joseph Stalin … we tend to remember the names of the worst dictators, if only because we can’t believe anyone could ever be so cheerfully inhuman. But how many of us know that there’s a second-tier of despots; a sort of B-League for insane tyrants? Here are ten evil dictators you’ve never heard of, who nevertheless made life miserable for millions:
10. Park Chung-Hee (South Korea)
Unless you grew up before the 1980’s, it might surprise you to learn that North Korea wasn’t always the only crazy dictatorship on the peninsula. Until 1978, South Korea was ruled by an iron fist by authoritarian strong man Park Chung-Hee, and you better believe he was as loony as his Northern neighbor. Under his regime, men were imprisoned for growing long hair and women had their skirts measured each day to ensure they weren’t showing off too much leg.
But life in Park’s Korea wasn’t all authoritarian japes. Underneath the petty restrictions lurked some serious human rights abuses. He manipulated elections, closed down the press, had political opponents tortured and executed, and once had his goons nearly throw South Korea’s future President into the ocean with some concrete boots. Eventually things got so bad that his best friend had to assassinate him, ushering in something more or less resembling democracy.
9. Juan Maria Bordaberry (Uruguay)
During the ’70s and ’80s, Uruguay was ruled by a succession of dictators, the baddest of who was Juan Maria Bordaberry. Although initially elected to power, he quickly clamped down on civil liberties by having the entire opposition imprisoned or murdered and suspending the constitution. He also encouraged an almost bizarre level of creativity among his security forces – culminating in their forcing the future President of the country to spend two years sitting at the bottom of a well outside the capital.
Although his reign was relatively short compared to some on this list, his Uruguay became known for having the highest concentration (per capita) of political prisoners anywhere on Earth – a heck of an achievement considering the Soviet Union was still active at the time. He was eventually replaced by the army in 1976, who found apparently found his unswerving dedication to military fascism even more disturbing than democratic rule.
8. Emomali Rahmon (Tajikistan)
There’s a fairly good chance you’ve heard of neither Rahmon nor the country he’s been lording over these last 22 years. And why should you? Tajikistan is almost unbelievably poor, unbelievably small and squashed right up against the far more-famous (for all the wrong reasons) nation of Afghanistan. Yet its 7 million citizens live under one of the evilest dudes in history.
Freedom of speech is so curtailed in Tajikistan that you can go to jail just for telling a joke. And Tajik jails are no laughing matter. Rahmon’s thugs are famous for torturing anyone they don’t like the look of, by electrocuting them, pouring boiling water on them, or simply laying into them with an iron bar. People frequently die in custody and children as young as seven have been jailed for plotting to overthrow the State. It’s thought that the President is currently an Al-Qaeda target, and for once we’re happy to side with them.
7. Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan)
Just across the border from Tajikistan sits a regime that could give Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea a run for its money. President Islam Karimov is the sort of guy who gives new meanings to the word “cruel.” During his 25-year tenure, his security forces have massacred hundreds of protesters, detained and tortured people on a purely random basis, and even had ordinary Uzbeks boiled alive. Unbelievably, this isn’t even the worst part.
That honour goes to the annual Uzbek cotton harvest. Every single year, a million people are randomly abducted from their homes and forced to work in slave labor conditions for zero pay, bringing in the cotton. This enslavement lasts three months, and there are no guarantees you’ll still have a job or home when you’re freed. Children as young as six have been worked to death during the harvest period and no-one in power seems to give a damn. Meanwhile, celebrities like Sting fly hundreds of miles to sing for Karimov’s spoilt daughters. Makes you sick, doesn’t it?
6. Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (Turkmenistan)
The reason you’ve never heard of Turkmenistan’s current dictator is twofold. First: no one has the faintest idea how to pronounce his name. Second: he took over from Saparmurat Niyazov – a man so crazy he ordered a giant ice palace built in the middle of the desert, banned beards and used national funds to launch his own autobiography into space.
But if people were expecting his successor to be any better, they were soon disappointed. Although less crazy, Gurbanguly has made a name for himself by allowing his security services to disappear or torture anyone they feel like. Since this torture often includes rape, electrocution, and medical experimentation, it’s probably fair to say Gurbanguly’s encroaching on Hitler territory with his psychosis. Like his predecessor, he’s also written a book, this time on horse breeding. What an oddly sweet topic for a man who made it illegal to leave your hometown under penalty of torture.
5. General Alfredo Stroessner (Paraguay)
Stroessner was one of the longest-serving dictators in history, managing to cling to power from 1954 until his exile to Brazil in 1989. He was also a rampant egomaniac; one of his first actions on seizing power was to construct a gigantic neon sign with his name emblazoned across it in the hills above the capital, switching it on every single night. Throughout his entire reign, the only newspaper allowed in the country printed six flattering full color photographs of him on its front page, every day.
Less amusingly, he also built concentration camps in the countryside that swallowed up nearly every political opponent in the country. Those who weren’t rounded up were usually found decapitated, or were placed in airplanes, flown high up above the countryside, and pushed out without a parachute. As final proof that he was a bit of a dick, Stroessner’s Paraguay also became a safe house for Nazi war criminals, including the notorious Auschwitz “Angel of Death,” Josef Mengele.
4. Francisco Macias Nguema (Equatorial Guinea)
Even on a continent known for its crazy, brutal dictators, President-For-Life Francisco Macias Nguema was something else. Paranoid to the point of comedy, he rarely entered the capital, preferring instead to live in a tiny hut in the countryside with the national treasury hidden under his bed. This was bad news for those who lived in the city, as Presidential decree meant power only got switched on when Nguema was visiting – which wasn’t very often. In a bizarre bout of insanity, he also once ordered everyone with glasses killed, for reasons which probably sounded fine in his own head.
His brutality was also legendary. Under his rule, slavery was re-introduced, and journalists were hacked to pieces with machetes and fed to sharks. By the time he was assassinated, he had murdered one-third of the population – more than even Stalin managed in his blood-soaked rule. He was evil enough to give any 20th century dictator a run for his money, and most of us have never even heard of him.
3. Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic)
Rafael Trujillo has a reputation as the “cruelest man in the Americas”. And while that may be an exaggeration – especially considering the next two entries on our list – he certainly wasn’t a balanced sort of guy.
First off, there was his obvious insanity. During his reign he had himself appointed God, his wife Queen of the World, and his 3-year old son a General. Second, there was his brutality. During his reign, he conducted a campaign of genocide against the Haitian population, had 50,000 of his own people murdered, and ushered in the use of torture instruments like an electric chair perfectly calibrated to keep its victims alive and in maximum pain. People were routinely detained and tortured for little-to-no reason, and disappearances were common. Eventually, Trujillo was gunned down by a group of seriously angry citizens, all of whom are still considered heroes to this day.
2. José Efraín Ríos Montt (Guatemala)
When history remembers you as the worst part of Guatemala’s psychotically violent 36-year civil war, then you know you’re a monster. Meet the man with this dubious claim to fame: José Efraín Ríos Montt was the dictator of Guatemala for a mere 17 months, yet that was enough to ensure his legacy as one of the cruelest men who ever lived.
Up to the point Montt seized power, Guatemala had been fighting an underground war against communists. Reasoning that communists were popular with the poor, Montt dreamt up a novel way of removing the threat: he decided to kill literally every single poor person in Guatemala. And he almost succeeded. During his time in office, 10,000 people were murdered, a further 100,000 were turned into refugees and 600 rural villages were completely annihilated. Just to prove how much of an asshole he was, Montt then topped this by committing genocide – ordering his forces to rape, murder, and starve vast swathes of the indigenous population to death. He’s currently living in comfort at his home in Guatemala, final proof against the existence of a loving God.
1. Jorge Rafael Videla (Argentina)
If they handed out awards for “most cartoonishly evil human in history,” Jorge Rafael Videla would sweep the boards every time. The tyrannical leader or Argentina from 1976 to 1981 orchestrated the country’s “dirty war” – a polite euphemism for saying his security forces murdered upwards of 40,000 people in seven years and tortured over 100,000. During his tenure, it became common practice for dissenters to be thrown from planes to drown in the Atlantic Ocean, and starvation and institutional rape were widespread.
But even all this has nothing on his most-absurd and horrifying crime of all. Videla has the distinction of being one of the only human beings on Earth to be literally convicted of stealing babies. At least 400 newborns were either taken from the homes of political prisoners, or raised by the military when their mothers were executed immediately after giving birth. In terms of evil, that’s almost off the scale. And yet, once again, most of us have probably never even heard of this murderous ass-clown.