Byline: Alexandra A. Seno
In February 1986, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were deposed as president and First Lady of the Philippines in a popular revolution. Two years after he died in 1989, his widow returned to live in the Philippines. Imelda, now 74, was the subject of a documentary at this year's Sundance festival, and is working on her autobiography, the tale of a Filipino girl who grew up to entertain world leaders like Muammar Kaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Deng Xiaoping and Fidel Castro, among others. Along the way, she collected shoes and became a favorite punching bag of the international media. NEWSWEEK's Alexandra A. Seno sat down with her at her Manila apartment to talk about the good times and the bad. Excerpts:
What legacy do you wish to leave behind?
[Ferdinand Marcos and I] knocked down the Iron Curtain, the Bamboo Curtain. I was in Russia in 1972, China before the fall of Vietnam. Our role was to balance the East and the West. Even before the fall of Vietnam, we had ties with the whole world. Our first trip to the United States we brought down the [U.S. military] bases agreement from 99 years to 25. Cuba has only one Guantanamo, and we had more than 20. The second [largest] number of bases outside of America was in the Philippines. Fidel Castro used to tell people, "I only drove for two women in my life. My mother and Mrs. Marcos." When I got there, he was so envious of Marcos and the Philippines.
A documentary about you called "Imelda" competed at Sundance. How do you feel about that?
I met the director and, [as] it was a documentary, I was all for it. [But] I don't know what it is all about. All our lives, we were committed to a vision, [an] ideology, theology toward human order. So much so I can put it in PowerPoint.
Not having seen it yet, do you expect the film will be fair?
I hope so. But if it's not, what's new? I just cross my fingers and hope for the best. I was both a symbol and a star and a slave as First Lady. I had to be a star for people to look up to. And I had to enslave myself. I had to set a certain standard.
How do you feel about your fame?
The fact alone is that I am known just by saying Imelda... No need for my last name. What makes me controversial is I am whole. I laugh, I cry, I work. I have been ridiculed, vilified and persecuted because of my shoes. But in a way they saved me. Because when they went through …