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An Insular, Pacific Solution for America's Despot Dilemma

March 02, 1986|Charles Williams Maynes | Charles William Maynes is editor of Foreign Policy magazine

WASHINGTON — America has a few problems with some of its fallen friends. One, Jean-Claude Duvalier, former president-for-life of Haiti, cannot find a place to live.

France does not want him; Liberia has turned him down, and he doesn't want to be extradited home for trial. The Reagan Administration says it cannot let him live in the United States because the large expatriate community of Haitians living here could pose a security problem for both "Baby Doc" and U.S. authorities.

Another deposed colleague, former Philippines strong man Ferdinand E. Marcos, poses a different kind of problem. If he and his high-living wife, Imelda, are allowed to stay in the United States and join the New York jet set, with which she has associated for some time, the large Filipino expatriate community here may bitterly resent recurring evidence of the large-scale corruption the Marcoses presided over for so long.

It is time for imaginative solutions to the problem of finding a place to live for disliked dictators--and one comes to mind. The United States should permit former American "friends" to come to the United States, provided they agree to live on one of the isles of America's Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

Saipan might be a possibility. A favorite of Japanese honeymooners, the island might prove even more exotic with a few famous political exiles. Or American Samoa, 5,000 miles from Manila. Island inhabitants could benefit because a location with more than one dictator could be a real tourist attraction, and boast about being host to the best of the worst--a fallen-despot theme park.

Adopting this solution solves several problems at once. First, the United States owes Duvalier and Marcos a destination. We urged them to leave.

Second, they might actually like the islands. The climate is similar to that of their own countries and the people are poor, like those they left behind.

Third, a Pacific location for Baby Doc or Marcos reduces opportunities for either to engage in political mischief among the divided U.S. expatriate communities and eliminates security problems.

Finally, for once in their lives, these two dictators might be able to use their stolen wealth productively. The United States has done a disgraceful job of managing its Pacific territories. Although thousands of Americans died in acquiring these islands from the Japanese, every postwar Administration has failed its responsibility to provide adequate political and economic development. In return for a haven, the new residents would make appropriate investments in the local economy.

The world is full of dictators who may be reluctant to leave power because they are not sure of finding a place to live out their days and it is damaging to the United States when old friends hang on too long. Yet if they have no place to go--and Duvalier's plight is sobering--they fear the next government may prove extremely vindictive. But receiving hated despots into one's metropolitan territory can also damage a country's foreign policy. Admitting the Shah of Iran to a New York hospital proved a political disaster for the Jimmy Carter Administration.

In the 1970s, some delegations at the United Nations recognized the problem and circulated a resolution to create an appropriate home for political exiles on some isolated island state. The resolution went nowhere but the idea was sound.

The task is to find some place that is both pleasant and looks like a punishment. Don't keep Baby Doc languishing in France. Don't let Imelda buy out Bloomingdale's. Find a new Elba in the Pacific.

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