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Blood, diamonds and silk toilet paper: three stories of dictators' wives

23.10.2021, 14: 00 EST

A source: Present Tense

Dictators' wives have played no less a role in history than their husbands. These women were nicknamed "Skirt Lucifer", "Black Spider", and "Lady Genocide". Hitler's wife Eva Braun, Iraqi first lady Sajida Tulfah, Mrs. Lucia Pinochet, former Rwandan first lady Agate Habyarimana and many others - who are they and what place do they occupy in the history of bloody regimes? What responsibility do the wives of executioners bear for the consequences of crimes and do spouses contribute to the fall of husbands' regimes? Let's talk about some of them.

Photo: Shutterstock

Imelda Marcos (Philippines)

Former first lady of the Philippines is considered to be the most greedy among women dictators, says Present Tense... Imelda Marcos suffered from delusions of grandeur and wasted money from the treasury at the snap of her fingers. The Philippines' budget went to her whims: real estate on Fifth Avenue in New York, villas in Los Angeles and castles in France, paintings by Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt, haute couture outfits, the largest diamonds in the world and even a silk dressing room handmade paper. The dressing room of Ferdinand Marcos' wife was bursting with 3000 pairs of shoes, and she collected them, not wore them.

No amount of spending could satisfy Imelda's appetite - neither shopping for $ 2 million in Bulgari's New York boutique in New York, nor building pompous buildings. The life and indiscriminate spending of the family of the dictator Marcos ran counter to the life of the poor Filipinos, who survived for 21 years (1965-1986) poverty, slums, executions, concentration camps, a military coup, the bombing of the capital and uprisings.

Imelda Marcos was not shy of wealth - she put on sparkling diamonds, going to places where people were starving. It is said that the bones of the workers who died when the roof collapsed during construction were poured with concrete into the founding of the Manila Cinema Center, one of Imelda’s projects.

The crimes of the Marcos against the people of the Philippines went unpunished. Ferdinand died three years after the fall of his dictatorship. The widowed Imelda managed to avoid arrest. She took advantage of her immunity status by running for president in 1992. Despite breaking the law, Imelda succeeded in congressional elections. She became a member of the House of Representatives.

The modern government of the Philippines managed to return part of the embezzlement of the Marcos to the treasury. Imelda's $ 21 million jewelry collection sold at auction - it included vintage Cartier tiaras, each worth $ 1 million, and a rare 25-carat pink diamond. Today, the state is busy looking for a collection of Imelda's works of art. The works, among which there is Michelangelo, bought in Rome for $ 3,5 million, and Francisco Goya - for $ 6 million, are planned to be confiscated.

The album of musicians Fatboy Slim and David Byrne "Here Lies Love" (2010), which later became a Broadway musical, is dedicated to Imelda Marcos. The album titles are Imelda's last words over her husband's embalmed body. She wanted to have “Here Lies Love” written on her tombstone. It is noteworthy that the titles of the songs are the titles to the political biography of the Marquez couple. For example, “Order 1081” is proclamation # 1081, the declaration of martial law and the transition of Ferdinand Marcos from president to dictator. “Blue Ladies” is a reference to a group of Imelda's closest supporters who wore blue robes. The husbands of the “blue ladies” were under the auspices of the dictatorial regime.

Ekaterina Dangiade (Central African Republic)

The Central African Republic is a former French colony that gained independence in 1960. This is one of the most dangerous and terrible places on the planet, where a brutal civil war is still going on and where Russian journalists were killed on July 30. The most barbaric period in the history of the CAR is considered the reign of Jean-Bedel Bokassa. Colonel Bokassa seized power in a military coup and held it from 1966 to 1979, proclaiming himself president and emperor for life. Bokassa's bloody regime is an outbreak of cannibalism, torture and execution, in which the dictator personally took part.

Bokassa had a harem of 17 wives who gave birth to a hundred heirs. Future brides were taken from their families by force. The most disobedient were sent to prison before the wedding. Some of the underage wives tried to commit suicide or escape from the palace. The emperor did not know the family members by sight - Bokassa's relatives wore gold badges with his portrait on their clothes. Ekaterina Dangiade is the main wife from the harem. Catherine was crowned Empress of the Central African Republic after the prototype of Josephine in a dress for 70 thousand dollars, and Bokassa - as Napoleon Bonaparte (the dictator considered him his idol).

Rolls-Royces, a massive golden throne in the form of an eagle, a carriage, horses, tons of food and drinks delivered by air from Europe - the coronation of Bokassa cost the state $ 20 million. This amount was a quarter of the annual income of the CAR and stood in sharp contrast to the poverty of the population of the Republic. Only 5 million was spent on a diamond crown, a scepter and a crown for the empress.

Part of it was financed by France, which had political and economic relations with the CARs - diamonds, gold and uranium were flowing into the country from the CAR.

The Emperor's favorite, Catherine Dangiade, quickly became accustomed to bloody diamonds, designer dresses, and increased attention. However, this did not stop her from betraying her husband, having an affair with the French president and helping to overthrow the regime of the cannibal emperor in the late 1970s. Bokassa was overthrown by the force of his allies - the French army, and Catherine managed to preserve wealth and property in Europe.

The stories of the emperor's cannibalism have never been proven. The former emperor was sentenced to death for murder, hiding corpses and embezzlement of the state budget. But the execution did not take place - his successor pardoned him.

Michelle Bennett Duvalier (Haiti)

The aristocrat and first lady of Haiti, Michelle Bennett, in 1980-s built the deceptive image of the Haitian Jacqueline Kennedy: charitable foundations, parties, donations and goodwill missions. However, behind the positive façade of Michelle, there were monetary frauds, budget embezzlement and participation in the bloody affairs of her husband's family.

Michel Jean-Claude Duvalier's husband is the heir to the bloodiest dictator in the history of Haiti, François Duvalier, nicknamed Pope Doc. The victims of the regime of Papa Doc were 60 thousands of people. Under Pope Dock on the snow-white beaches of Haiti, the slave trade, the sale of children, and starvation died. Locals paid taxes even on matches. Father Duvalier organized the system of prisons and concentration camps, the secret police of the tonton-makuts and speculated on the image of a voodoo demon. Duvalier Sr. stated that he was one of the gods of the religion of voodoo - Baron Sabbath, the leader of the dead, and personally supervised torture in prisons. Illiterate and superstitious locals believed that his secret police were voodoo zombies that were impossible to hide from. The police tortured people: skinned, burned alive or stoned.

After the death of Papa Doc, his 19-year-old son Jean-Claude Duvalier came to power, whose magnificent wedding for Michelle Bennett cost Haiti $ 3 million. Baby Duvalier, nicknamed Baby Dock, took the path of looting and corruption. Corruption and bribery with him has reached unprecedented proportions.

The first lady of Haiti, Michelle Bennett, did not stay away from the machinations. Michelle opened the Duvalier Foundation - bribes passed through it. Enterprises in Haiti - from steel mills to power plants - donated tens of thousands of dollars in bribes each month to the fund. Michelle's charitable activities are staged with theatrical skill - even Maria Teresa believes her, not paying attention to how money is donated to Duvalier's personal account. Michelle's megalomania is comparable to the eccentric behavior of the first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos: while Haitian children starve to death, Michelle wears mink coats in Haiti, turning on air conditioners to the max.

In 1986, Duvalier's regime was overthrown, and the secret police were stoned. Unlike her husband, Michelle Bannet will be able to get away from prosecutions, withdraw money to accounts abroad, get a divorce, and live in his French palace. Michelle Jean-Claude’s ex-husband in February 2013 will be brought to justice, where he does not admit his guilt in corruption and violation of human rights. And Michelle will lead a page on Facebook, where he will continue to support the image of Madonna from the slums of compassionate posts.

French director Joel Soler for 18 years he has been conducting his film research around two main themes - terrorism and dictatorship. Working under the cover of the FBI did not save Soler during the filming from imprisonment in a Yemeni prison in the village of Al Qaeda. Soler interviewed for the early films the Hitler family (“Uncle Hitler”), Osama bin Laden (“Bin Laden: The Dynasty of Terror”) and Saddam Hussein’s relatives (“Uncle Saddam”).

The documentary saga “Despotic Housewives” is the last work of Soler on the topic of blood money and the temptation of power. The stories told by Soler, we illustrated with frames from his new film.

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