The World's Most Notorious Despots

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff
The World's Most Notorious Despots

by Borgna Brunner

Top Ten Despots

Ivan the Terrible


Joseph Stalin

Adolph Hitler

Mao Zedong

Francois Duvalier

Nicolae Ceausescu

Idi Amin

Pol Pot

Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier

Up to 60,000 Haitians died under the 1957–71 reign of Duvalier, and millions were exiled. With his henchmen, the Tontons Macoutes ("Bogeymen"), Duvalier terrorized and murdered potential political foes and ordinary Haitians. Trained as a doctor—hence his ironically paternalistic nickname—Duvalier declared himself President-for-Life in 1964 and portrayed himself as a semidivine, voodoo-empowered ruler . . . a portrait shows him posing with Jesus Christ. His corrupt policies spawned a fabulously wealthy elite and a dirt-poor populace—Haitians' per capita annual income under Duvalier was $80, the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. After his death, his pudgy, somewhat dim son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier was enthroned, and carried on his father's venal policies until he was driven out of the country in 1986.

Nicolae Ceausescu

Running a neo-Stalinist police state from 1967–89, Nicolae Ceausescu wound the iron curtain tightly around Romania, turning a moderately prosperous country into one at the brink of starvation. To repay his $10 billion foreign debt in 1982, he ransacked the Romanian economy of everything that could be exported, leaving the country with desperate shortages of food, fuel, and other essentials. Yet no costs were spared for his own self glorification—the self-proclaimed "Genius of the Carpathians" spent lavishly on party office buildings and personal residences. Ceausescu also razed thousands of villages and forced citizens into concrete high-rises, a misguided socialist idea of modernity as well as a way of wiping out Romanian culture and history. His corruption and nepotism were legion, and former Secretary of State George Shultz claimed that during Ceausescu's reign, Romania had "possibly the worst" human rights record in the East bloc.

More Notorious Despots

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