You say 'po-tah-toe'...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

You say 'po-tah-toe'...

Struck by this morning's Reuters' headline reporting the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi:

Ethiopian strongman and Western ally, Meles, dies

It's a very informative headline... tells us most of what we need to know about the decedent.

A more parochial news organization reported:

Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi dead at 57

(Please note that I make no value judgements about the man, only the language of the reports.)

My first recollection of the use of the word "strongman" in describing a political leader was with the death, by assassi­nation, of Anastasio Somoza García in 1956.

The headlines throughout the United States referenced him as "Nicaraguan Strongman Anastasio Somoza," but history shows that the man who directly or indirectly ruled the Central American Republic for almost 20 years, was a ruthless and utterly corrupt dictator.

He was, however, supported by the administrations of Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower... it was the U.S. Marines who put him in power in 1933, and in violation of a safe-conduct agreement, Somoza had the leader of his opposition, and his numerous followers, assassinated.

(Never wonder why "Banana Republic" has a pejorative connotation.)

No matter, FDR, HST and Ike all did business with his Partido Liberal Nacionalista regime because it was anti-Communist.

It took several decades before the "strongman" tag was retired in favor of "dictator" when referring to Somoza.

It will be history who judges Meles Zenawi and his three-days-shy of 17-year rule as the leader of Ethiopia, and balance his government's political and healthcare reforms with the accusations of political repression and various human rights abuses.

(Though Voice of America has already weighed in.)

For now, however, he is described as "strongman" because he was a key ally in the United States' war on terror.

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