[Eldridge Cleaver with wife Kathleen in Algiers, 1969, by Bruno Barbey/Magnum]
For a brief spell in the early 1970s, global revolutionaries flocked to Algiers much in the same way that galactic freighter pilots descended on Mos Eisley. They came at the behest of Algeria’s dictatorial president, Houari Boumediene, a onetime military commander who loved to use his nation’s petroleum wealth to thumb his nose at the West—sort of an Arab Hugo Chavez, except with fewer berets and talk shows. Boumediene offered generous monthly stipends to any armed group that was dedicated to overthrowing colonial masters or otherwise “decadent” regimes. And he let those groups’ exiled leaders operate at will in Algiers, where they often set up headquarters in regal-yet-decaying villas that had once belonged to well-heeled pieds-noirs.
The insurgents who took advantage of Boumediene’s largesse came from every corner of the globe: Algerian money and hospitality flowed to fighters from Colombia, Rhodesia, North Vietnam, West Germany, and dozens of other countries where young men and women dreamed of obliterating the political status quo. Perhaps the most famous recipient of Boumediene’s generosity during this era was the Black Panther “Minister of Information” Eldridge Cleaver, who fled to Algiers in 1969 while on the run from an attempted-murder charge in California. Boumediene was taken by Cleaver’s bellicose anti-American rhetoric, which included vows to burn down the White House and oversee the nationalization of Standard Oil. He rewarded the Soul on Ice author with a $500-a-month stipend, which Cleaver used to set up what he referred to as the International Section of the Black Panther Party—a commune of sorts that attracted several other black American radicals to Algiers.