The life of an all-powerful, authoritative leader is not a cheap one. It costs a lot of money to build and maintain opulent and ostentatious palaces, to arm personal armies and secret police, and to pay off enough cronies to protect yourself from the rebels outside (and inside) the walls. Leaders without access to large and regular infusions of cash don’t tend to stick around long. Besides illegal drugs, there are few things that convert as easily to cash as oil and there are a lot of places around the world where the black liquid gold has allowed some pretty terrible characters to grab and maintain control over their nations.

Besides the vast buckets of cash that oil brings in, it can also provide a great deal of stability to those willing to play along with western powers. Western nations, chief among them the United States, have shown a preference for stability over human rights when faced with conflicts in oil rich, dictator-lead countries. American intelligence agencies seem particularly found of establishing relationships with leaders willing to open their oil fields up to corporate exploitation. It was oil, and the revenues it generated, that allowed Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to stick around for as long as he did and it was one of the reasons the U.S. government had a great relationship with Iraq’s Sadam Hussein in the years leading up to the first Gulf War.

Here are six of the world’s top dictators holding onto power thanks to the sweet economic and political power of oil.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria
The African nation of Algeria is heavily dependent on the revenues generated by the approximately two million barrels of oil that it pumps every day. Fossil fuel earnings make up nearly two thirds of the its operating budget and almost all of its export profits. The billions of dollars that are brought in every year has been the life blood flowing through the heart of its autocratic government, currently lead by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Mr. Bouteflika served as the President of the 29th UN General Assembly back in the 70s and came to power in Algeria in 1999 after grabbing 74% of the votes, as reported by Algerian officials. He had the backing of the military and increased his vote tally to 85% in the 2004 election. In 2009 he garnered 90% of the vote. Nothing fishy about that at all. Not at all.

Bouteflika and his party hold a monopoly on all Algerian media, maintains a healthy security infrastructure, and was accused of brutally cracking down on protesters spurred on by the Arab Spring.

President José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola
Angola sits on the west coast of Africa and was established as a Portuguese colony before gaining independence in 1975 after a brutal war. The country was further torn by civil strife until 2002, when a cease-fire treaty was signed by the two main factions fighting for control. Angola sits on top of a large oil reserve and pumps almost two million barrels out of the ground every day. The money flowing in from the sale of oil has both allowed President José Eduardo dos Santos to maintain a tight grip on power while increasing social tensions due to the rising gap between the small pocket of rich people close to power and the vast majority pounded by poverty and lack of economic opportunity. A Human Rights Watch report found that 32 billion dollars has disappeared from government accounts in the three short years between 2007 and 2010. I wonder where it went.

Hugo Chávez of Venezuela
Hugo Chávez has served as the President of the South American nation of Venzuela since being elected in 1999. Before winning the office of the Presidency, Mr. Chávez was an active dissident against the established government and served two years in jail in the early 90s after a failed coup. As President, Mr. Chávez has pursued a socialist agenda that has nationalized key industries like oil and gas extraction. Venezuela has bountiful oil reserves and pumps out a little less than two and a half million barrels a day, most of which is exported to countries like the United States. Citgo, a familiar brand to most U.S. drivers, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., the Venezuelan national oil company.

Chávez has used the billions of dollars of oil revenue to fend off an attempted coup and to solidify his grip on power. In 2010 Amnesty International accused his administration of arresting political opponents while in 2008, Human Rights Watch reported that Chávez was suppressing freedom of the press, the impartiality of the courts, and the rights of workers to organize.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia
Vladimir Putin is easily the biggest of the oil-propped leaders found on our list. Mr. Putin has run Russia under a number of titles since 2000 and served as a security officer in the KGB before he entered politics in 1990. Russia is the third largest oil producing nation in the world and pulls a little over ten million barrels of oil out of the ground every day. This oil revenue was the primary driver behind Russia clawing out of a massive economic hangover left from the crumbling Soviet empire and helped Putin firm up his control of the country. A master of public relations, Putin has created a macho image for himself both at home and aboard by doing things like shooting whales with a tissue sample-collecting crossbow, riding bare chested on a horse, and helping to put a tracking collar on a polar bear. This macho image is reflected in his governing style which relies on controlling the media, intimidating his political opponents, and even (allegedly) poisoning them when they won’t shut up.

King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia
Abdulla bin Abdul Aziz, the King of Saudi Arabia, is the son of King Abdulaziz, the founding monarch of the oil-rich nation, and has been in power since 2005 after the death of his half-brother King Fahd. Saudi Arabia pulls more than eight million barrels of oil from their reserves every day. The money is used to support a large and powerful class of prince and princesses of the House Saud and to provide enough social services to Saudi citizens to maintain a stable rule. Saudi Arabia is infamous for their deplorable record on women’s rights and for their officially sanctioned vice police who brutally maintain their interpretation of Sharia Law. The House Saud has been in complete control of the country since King Abdulaziz carved out his kingdom back in the days before WW2, something only made possible by being in control of their oil fund purse strings. As long as the oil keeps flowing that should continue to be true.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakstan
Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev has ruled over Kazakhstan since the nation broke from Soviet rule in 1991. His long reign has been facilitated by the revenue generated by the million and a half barrels of oil produced in his nation every day. Like many of the other leaders on our list, Nazarbayev is a master campaigner and brought home more than 95% of the vote in the 2011 elections. In other words, he’s completely corrupt. Kazakhstan has a dismal record when it comes to human rights and has been accused of tightly controlling its population and suppressing and eliminating freedoms of the press, of speech, and religious practice. All thanks to oil!

Main photo credit: Dmitry Astakhov

Photo of Abdelaziz Bouteflika mural: Thierry Ehrmann/Flickr

Photo of José Eduardo dos Santos: Wilson Dias/ABr

Photo of Hugo Chávez: Martin Maddock, USN

Photo of Vladmir Putin: Politsurfer

Photo of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz: Presidential Press and Information Office of Russia

Photo of Nursultan Nazarbayev: Ricardo Stuckert/PR