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NI: Eduardo Galeano's view from the South. Bahamas

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  • John Clancy
    from: jclancy@smartchat.net.au subject: NI: Eduardo Galeano s View from the south. Bahamas Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000 New Internationalist . August 2000 (No.326)
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5, 2000
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      from: jclancy@...
      subject: NI: Eduardo Galeano's View from the south. Bahamas
      Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000

      New Internationalist . August 2000 (No.326)

      "EDUARDO GALEANO'S VIEW FROM THE SOUTH"

      Images - For Art History Class -

      In the depths of a cave by the Pinturas River a hunter pressed his
      hand red with blood on the stone. He left his hand there in some sort
      of truce between the urgency of killing and the terror of dying. And
      some time later another hunter printed, next to that hand, his own
      hand black with soot. And then other hunters began leaving on the
      stone the prints of their hands soaked in colours that came from
      blood, ashes, earth and flowers.

      Thirteen thousand years later, near to the Pinturas River in the town
      of Perito Moreno, someone writes on a wall: 'I was here.'

      - The Photographer -

      Hiladio Sanchez lives in darkness, like the bat. Like the bat, he
      sees with his ears. But the bat does not know how to take pictures.
      Hiladio is a photographer, and a good one.

      He was a soccer player, and a good one, 20-odd years ago. Playing for
      Cuba's national team a ball to the head knocked him flat. He looked
      dead. Some time later he woke up in the hospital. He was alive. He
      was blind.

      Besides seeing with his ears, Hiladio sees with the eyes of his
      imagination and his memory and he has found a way to tell us what he
      sees. Camera in hand, he plies his art as miracle-worker of the
      image. He measures distance by footsteps and adjusts the shutter by
      the heat of the day or the cool of the afternoon. And when everything
      is ready he aims and hits the target, guided by voices or by
      silences, which are never quiet.

      Hiladio Sanchez lives in darkness, like thebat. Like the bat he sees
      with his ears Hiladio photographs his neighbours leaning against a
      wall pocked with scars and he photographs sheets hanging from the
      line and cups and pans hanging from nails, the slow passing of hours
      and people, the light of the sun on the courtyard and the shadow that
      slices through it.

      He does not photograph the moon, though he knows it well. Each night
      those cold fingers touch his face. It is the moon, calling him. And
      the blind man plays deaf.

      - Colours -

      Some place in time, beyond time, the world was grey. Thanks to the
      Ishir Indians, who stole colour from the gods, today the world is
      resplendent; and the colours of the world burn in the eyes of all who
      look at them.

      Ticio Escobar accompanied a film crew from Spanish TV that came to
      the Chaco to shoot scenes of daily life among the Ishir. An Indian
      girl pursued the director, a silent shadow that stuck to his body and
      stared into his face from up close, as if she wanted to get inside
      his strange blue eyes.

      The director turned to Ticio, who knew the girl, and that very
      curious one confessed: 'I want to know what colour you see things.'

      'The same as you,' smiled the director.

      'And how do you know what colour I see things?'

      - Sculptors -

      Piltriquitron Hill has its head in the clouds. Until a short while
      ago its head was a burned forest; now it is a carved forest.

      A few sculptors, artists from here and from there, climbed that peak
      to where the tall trees lay, levelled by a ferocious blaze, and they
      set to work on the trunks that the flames had uprooted or mutilated.
      The trees - were they dead or were they playing dead? For a week -
      day in, day out - the sculptors kept at their task; and by the grace
      and magic of their hands, the cadavers began to walk.

      A gigantic tree trunk is now a harlequin/jestersprawled flat, with a
      single hat for two heads.

      The show begins when you arrive. The cemetery has become a theatre.
      A gigantic tree trunk is now a harlequin/jester sprawled flat, with a
      single hat for two heads. The harlequin/jester welcomes the
      distinguished audience who step inside and wander from tree to tree
      amid the wooden bodies that spring forth from the ruins and, dancing,
      take flight.

      Eduardo Galeano, whose many books include the trilogy Memory of Fire,
      lives and writes in Montevideo, Uruguay. Translation © Mark Fried.

      ***********

      from: jclancy@...
      Subject: NI: double dealing / crackdown. Bahamas
      Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000

      New Internationalist . August 2000 (No.326)

      "Double Dealing"
      By Michael Peel
      -------------------------

      In the Bahamian capital Nassau, plump American tourists shoot craps
      against a background of sculptures and murals of mythical beasts.

      'In the zone, Jack,' comes the shout from the Atlantis resort, as
      dice fly from hands to table. The scene plays to a glamorous image of
      the Bahamas that fades quickly outside the casino's doors. In the
      streets behind shops selling Colombian emeralds and other exotica,
      the preoccupations of city-centre workers are more mundane. A big
      worry is a move by the world's richest countries to make tax havens
      like the Bahamas end their secretive ways.

      'Taking that away takes away a whole lot of jobs, a whole lot
      of opportunities,' says Patrice, a bank worker.

      The Bahamas won independence from Britain in 1973. But to many this
      move to restrict offshore banking looks like a new form of
      colonialism - the island nation is asking why it should have to
      reform a financial system put in place by its former master. And
      Bahamians also question the hypocrisy of industrialized nations whose
      own banking systems are often thickly cloaked against outside eyes.

      By their heavy-handed and inconsistent approach the rich nations
      risk sabotaging a necessary crusade. Collective action to end the
      dubious business done in offshore financial centres is long overdue.

      The pressure from the big economies stems mainly from worries about
      tax evasion. Governments looking to cut income taxes are casting
      around for alternative measures to raise money for public spending.
      An attractive option is to tap the wealth of citizens and companies
      hiding their money offshore.

      And there is a lot of money out there. The Organization for
      Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a club of 29 of the
      wealthiest nations, says the use of tax havens is expanding at an
      exponential rate. A 1998 report on just two of the havens (the Isle
      of Man and the Channel Islands) put the size of their financial
      services industry at $350 billion - comparable to the gross domestic
      product of the Netherlands.

      ****** end ******

      New Internationalist . August 2000 (No.326)

      "Crackdown" ---------------

      -- The 46 major tax havens

      -- Anguilla / The Bahamas / Barbados / Belize / Bermuda / Cayman
      Islands British Virgin Islands / Montserrat / St Kitts and Nevis /
      Turks and Caicos Islands / Andorra / Antigua / Aruba / Costa Rica /
      Dominica / Grenada Jamaica / St Lucia / Monaco / Netherlands Antilles
      / Panama / St Vincent US Virgin Islands / Bahrain / Cyprus / Dubai /
      Guernsey, Sark, Alderney Gibraltar / Isle of Man / Jersey /
      Liechtenstein / Mauritius / Malta San Marino / Brunei / Cook Islands
      / The Maldives / Marshall Islands Nauru / Niue / Seychelles / Tonga /
      Tuvalu / Vanuatu / Samoa Liberia

      This is the background against which the OECD has decided to launch
      a crackdown. In June it published a list of offshore centres that
      engage in what it describes as 'unfair tax competition'. This means
      they offer low or zero income tax rates with insufficient disclosure
      on the individuals or companies doing business on their shores.
      Havens that fail to change risk incurring economic sanctions starting
      next year.

      The OECD has spent almost two years trying to force the havens to
      bend to its will. In 1998 it drew up a list of 46 targets in four
      World Cup-style groups roughly divided by geography (see sidebars).
      Those included range from politically stable territories and
      independent nations to countries such as Liberia that lack government
      worthy of the name. They span the continents - from Anguilla in the
      Caribbean to Monaco to the Pacific island of Niue.

      The thing all have in common is that offshore business plays an
      important, if not dominant, role in their economies. In the Caribbean
      many of the havens were developed by colonial authorities after the
      Second World War. They saw offshore banking as an economic salvation
      for island nations dubbed 'no soil, no oil' because of their lack of
      natural resources.

      The growth of financial services has helped make some havens the envy
      of their neighbours. Gross domestic product per person in the British
      Virgin Islands (BVI) last year was $32,700 - about 60 times higher
      than Haiti. The problem is that this has been achieved with perks for
      investors that few consider acceptable. The BVI capital, Road Town,
      is the world's leading venue for creating offshore companies which
      pay no income tax. Disclosure requirements are minimal. There is no
      need to publish lists of directors, owners or shareholders.

      The havens effectively act as flags of convenience for wealth. It
      matters little where the business comes from. Offshore centres are as
      cosmopolitan as the jewellery shop in central Road Town, where the
      top-priced ring is Italian-designed and set with a Colombian emerald
      and ten African diamonds.

      What the depositors share is a gratitude for the privacy on offer.
      One example is Michael Ashcroft, a controversial billionaire
      businessman who donated nearly five million dollars to Britain's
      opposition Conservative Party. He has formed sufficiently close links
      with the Turks and Caicos Islands to loan his name to a school. Its
      motto is suitably wholesome: 'The young of today are the pillars of
      tomorrow.'

      There are myriad reasons why people want to hide away money
      obtained legally. For one thing it allows companies to keep joint
      ventures secret from rivals. And it is a way for some businesses to
      protect assets from lawsuits.

      For individuals, tax havens provide a means to protect wealth and
      avoid personal embarrassment. One banker gives the example of a
      businessman trying to stop his partner finding out that he is paying
      child support to his ex-wife. Others are safeguarding gains against
      taxation or seizure by governments: witness the influx of private
      banking business into the Bahamas from Latin America in recent years.

      None of these arguments impress those charged with keeping dirty
      money out of the havens. 'They tell you it's offshore for tax
      reasons,' says an ex-British police officer. 'That's bullshit. The
      only people who do it are people with something to hide.'

      The havens' opacity is a frustration to investigators trying to
      track criminals and their illegal earnings. Documents that are
      publicly available in most countries have to be obtained by legal
      process. This puts those requesting help in a Catch-22 situation:
      information crucial to proving wrongdoing is often denied because
      they have failed to provide enough evidence that a crime has been
      committed.

      Money-launderers exploit this to leave investigators with arduous
      paper chases. Using a technique known as 'layering', the fraudsters
      build up edifices of companies, each of them registered as the owner
      of the one on the tier below. By the time the pursuers have reached
      the end the money may well have gone elsewhere.

      - Potential for abuse -

      The lack of contact between tax havens and offshore investors
      creates further potential for abuse. Even though the BVI has
      registered more than 350,000 offshore companies, the islands are the
      last place you would look for company directors or offices. The big
      overseas presence is not from the businesses incorporated there, but
      from service providers such as Barclays Bank.

      No-one knows how many of the offshore companies are conduits for
      criminal activity. The 80 or so agents registered to act for them
      rarely, if ever, meet their ultimate clients. The two worlds are
      separated by many intermediaries like lawyers and accountants.

      The irony is that the colonial powers were so eager to develop such
      opaque structures. With the experiment over, the havens find
      themselves under attack by their creators. Bodies like the Financial
      Action Task Force, a 28-member inter-governmental body set up to
      combat money laundering, and the Financial Stability Forum, all have
      the same mantra: 'more transparency now' .

      The former colonial states are showing little regard for the legacy
      they left behind. Some havens are wrestling with social injustices
      that stem from the tax systems they've inherited. Forced to raise
      money through indirect levies rather than income tax, they punish the
      people any progressive system ought to help.

      The Bahamas is a case in point. To compensate for the absence of
      personal income tax, imports are subject to a hefty duty. This
      extends to basic items such as milk. While this is irrelevant to
      offshore investors it makes a big difference to local people,
      especially those at the bottom of the income scale. 'In the ghetto
      store, prices are real high,' says Alex Tair, who works for the
      Government's gaming board. 'The rich guy has got it much more easy
      than the poor guy.'

      The industrial nations are reluctant to address the issue of what
      happens to these small nations when their tax haven status is
      withdrawn. Change could drive money away in a rush, causing job
      losses among banks and other support services. The response of the
      OECD is a vague commitment to work with development agencies to
      cushion the social fall-out.

      - Double standards -

      Nor do rich nations admit to their own double standards in the
      banking arena. While they preach openness to outsiders, countries
      like Switzerland and Luxembourg have high levels of privacy in their
      financial systems. An OECD report on tax evasion published in April
      went out of its way to reassure members that furtiveness was
      acceptable. 'The report is quite explicit in recognizing the
      legitimate role that bank secrecy plays in protecting the
      confidentiality of financial affairs,'said Gabriel Makhlouf, chair of
      the committee that prepared the research.

      These were sweet words to Swiss banks which have been involved in a
      string of outrages. And the scandals keep flowing - from Nazi gold to
      loot hidden by Sani Abacha, the late Nigerian dictator. Switzerland
      trades on the image that when you walk into one of the country's
      banks, no-one will know the door by which you leave.

      This makes the OECD's position patently hypocritical. While it is
      reticent to crack down on its own members, the speed of its action
      against tax havens threatens the livelihoods of many thousands of
      people. The result could be doubly unfair: economic and social
      turbulence for small offshore centres as their business shifts to big
      economies that still offer a 'no questions asked' service.

      What is needed is a broad and enforceable commitment to higher levels
      of disclosure everywhere. A worldwide lifting of the financial veil
      would offer benefits to both rich and poor countries. Both would cut
      down on the tax lost to evasion. Greater transparency might also
      allow the creation and policing of new ethical levies. One example is
      the Tobin Tax on currency speculation aimed at helping development in
      poor nations.

      This global advance must occur in a way that softens its impact on
      the people of the offshore centres. The OECD should commit itself to
      helping those affected, through financial aid and retraining. Many
      havens are doubly vulnerable given their shaky dependence on tourism
      revenues. The last thing they need is for another pillar of their
      economies to be kicked away without replacement.

      Colonialism shaped these economies into what they are today and
      people will see it as a betrayal if their former occupiers deliver a
      killing blow. " JC
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