After 20 years of wrangling over the allegedly ill-gotten wealth of ex-dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his widow Imelda, who turns 77 next week, and the Philippine government may be nearing a settlement. She spoke with TIME's Nelly Sindayen about wealth, friends and her shoes.
How rich are you? If you know how rich you are, my dear, then you're not really rich. Frankly, I don't want to put numbers [out there] ... The vultures want a piece of the Marcos meat.
How did your husband become so wealthy? Marcos was a gold trader. When he entered politics in 1949, he had tons and tons of gold ... It wasn't stolen.
Why do you sometimes say you're poor? I am poor not in material things but in the truth. I've been called a thief, the biggest ever ... [Philippine officials] think they have taken everything away from me, including my shoes. But actually that's my biggest defense: when they opened my closet, they found shoes instead of skeletons.
Many notorious leaders have been kind to you. When I visited Cuba, [Fidel Castro] drove for me. He told me he had driven for only two people in his life--his mother and me. At the height of the cold war, I visited China. When I saw Chairman Mao, I kissed his hand, so he kissed my hand. "I like you," the Chairman said. "You're very beautiful, and childlike."
What will you do next? A project that will wipe out poverty in the Philippines in two years ... using the Marcos wealth. Long after I'm gone, people will remember me for building them homes, roads and hospitals and giving them food. The people should stop laughing at all this. They should stop thinking that I'm a bit touched in the head.