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HOW TO DISCOVER YOUR PARADISE: COMPARISON SHOP! (PART 2)
In a previous installment on "finding your paradise," Jack Burns had searched the Caribbean over and, after almost giving up hope, finally discovered his and his wife's "paradise" in the form of David, Panama, near the Pacific coast and Costa Rica border. They had just arrived ... and the story picks up from there. Very amusing, and presumably a fair indication of how things might move on Latin American time. As Jack puts it, mañana does not mean "tomorrow"; it means "not today." You have to be flexible.
In our previous installment we were still awaiting the arrival of our containers. Notice how we said container(s) meaning two -- as neither the container with our worldly possessions nor our storage container arrived as planned. Paradise and being flexible go hand in hand ... Here is what happened!
We did complete the purchase for the 40 foot "storage" container and on Saturday, January 19th we had arranged for a "man and machine" (the machine being a large front-end loader) to unload the container from the delivery truck so it would be ready when our household goods container arrived on Monday. Then ... a simple transfer of our belongings would take place. What a great plan it was, eh!
Ruthie and I arrived at the property to discover that there is no "man and machine" to be seen so we questioned our cuiador (security man) as to the reason for the equipment absence and his reply was that -- when the "man and machine" arrived it can only be assumed that the "machine" somehow, magically knew, how to get to our property by itself as the "man" was so drunk he could not operate the unit. This was at 7 o'clock in the morning. They had quickly sent him away -- off the property to avoid a disaster.
Okay, then we decided to switch to -- Plan B -- always have several back up plans in mind for even the most seemingly easy operation.
The fellows plotted out Plan B as follows ... hire some other men to magically lower the container from its 5 foot elevation (atop the truck), to the ground, without a forklift or crane!!!! When we asked how they would do this they replied, "no problem!" Thinking that I must trust their recommendation and ability -- we agreed. We left the property and returned to David with high hopes for the morrow.
Ruthie and I arrived back at the property the next day Sunday January 20th (my birthday) just as the men were performing this "feat of magic" -- and after watching for what felt like an eternity (in reality it was about 30 seconds) I informed Ruthie, "we have seen enough," and promptly gave enough money to our cuiador to pay any of the men who may were still alive after this magic act! My big decision was to just go off and celebrate my birthday and attempt to forget the fiasco! Tomorrow is another day. Good motto to live by in Paradise.
Monday, the 21st was the due-date for the household goods to arrive at the property -- not too bad, just two weeks late. The plan sounded simple enough to accomplish. You start by hiring a big, professional, American company to ship the stuff, and then hire a big, professional, Panamanian broker to clear the stuff and everything should be easy -- right? Wrong!
Unfortunately, the big, professional companies missed a step! I received a panic phone call from our broker in Panama City saying that they required my passport -- the original -- so it could be stamped and this was required immediately. So then, I was to send my passport, without me attached to it -- via the local airline to Panama City. YIKES!!!!
Only those of you with knowledge of living or traveling in a foreign country -- a really foreign country -- WITHOUT a passport or, even allowing your passport out of your possession, would understand my concern at that request. However, if I wanted to see the container and our possessions I was to do as instructed. So I found myself handing over two dollars and my passport to the non-English speaking gentleman at the airline office as I bid a fond farewell to my passport!
The good news on that day was the confirmation that our goods were actually in Panama (Colon City) and would be arriving at our property on Tuesday at 7 A.M. -- yea, right! I returned Tuesday to the property and expected to see a series of wooden crosses decorating our container site (as a result of the prior Sunday's potential container unloading massacre), but was pleasantly surprised to find no markers -- that was a bonus!
We made a cursory inspection and informed our cuiador that the container with our goods would arrive the next day, Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., and to have a crew of young, strong (emphasis on strong) people available. I explained that the truck driver was driving through the night to at our property by 7 a.m. and that he would wait for the container to be emptied and then immediately drive back to Panama City, some 7 hours away. My cuiador replied, "no problem." I was beginning to really dislike the phrase as it always appeared to be a preamble for disaster.
The next day, Wednesday, Ruthie and I awoke very early so we could drive the 40 minute trek from the Hotel Puerta del Sol in David, where we were living, to our property to meet the truck. The container, loaded with our worldly possessions, contained many prized articles that could be reduced to land fill in a heartbeat if mishandled, so we knew that our presence was an absolute must!
Arriving at the property some two minutes late, we were simultaneously informed (by phone), that the truck was going to be delayed -- now there is a surprise -- as the truck driver had to stop in David to pick up the quarantine and customs inspectors and bring them to the property to inspect the unloading. Remembering my new mantra about "flexibility" I could do nothing but tell them, "no problem." Of course, had we been informed we needed agents from David, we could have brought the agents along with us since we living in David, just a two minute drive from the agent's office.
Well, the truck finally arrived with our goods and the government entourage ... and so the real "party" began.
Trying to gain entry to the container was a problem. The container was "sealed" for importation reasons and our government officials do not have the tool to remove the special customs lock. They asked me, "do you have a hack saw?" Yes, I replied -- it is in the container! It is amazing what you can cut with a machete using only 15 minutes of time and a lot of sweat and profanities!
Opening the container door ever so slowly in anticipation of the goods falling on my head I was greeted with only a few unimportant projectiles. Securing the ensuing "wave of belongings" to allow the doors to be fully opened we breathed a sigh of relief to finally see our "stuff."
Our truck driver and the "Feds" took up their stance in the shade of the truck -- never to be seen again! When we went looking for them we found them perched like kings on the first thing out of the container -- our folding lawn chairs. At least the unloading in the heat of the day had the hidden benefit of chasing the inspectors away. We could have brought in anything!
A truly amazing feat soon revealed itself when we discovered that our goods from the packed 20-foot container were NOT going to fit into the 40-foot container. This was a tribute to the genius of our hardworking, wonderful friends and neighbors, Bob, Gloria and their son, Bobby who had assisted me in the loading of the 20-foot container in Florida. To this day I have not figured out how they managed to pack a double load in to a single container!
We made an "executive decision" to set some of our stuff aside to allow us to put them into the big container later as we were on a time push to get the delivery truck unloaded quickly. Working slowly, we feared, would upset the inspectors and we definitely did not want to upset them! The driver and the "Feds" were okay as long as they were beside the container (in the shade) but I was worried that if they had to hide under the container to avoid the midday sun it may result in additional "taxes!"
Well, the long and the short of it was that all of our crap (it was no longer stuff) did not fit into the 40-footer and we had some fairly valuable goods sitting in the middle of a field. It was time to invent Plan C.
Plan C involved hiring some MORE people (your are probably thinking that everyone in the village has been hired by now!) and to have a sleep-over beside our "crap" and then the next day hire still some more people (perhaps from the next village over) to build a fence around our outdoor display of personal wealth! To this Plan they all said, "No problem."
The good news (and there always seemed to be some good news) was that our project contractor came on the job site, organized the fencing, and we had a roof built covering the container plus an additional area beside it to provide shade for us while working on other "stuff." Unfortunately, our architect, as architects do, wanted to design something (this translates in all languages to "I want more $$$$") -- so my response was, "no way, we are in the middle of a jungle, can't we do something ‘jungle like?’"
Our contractor jumped in and said, "you can use bamboo ... yes!" To which I agreed, "No problem." In just two days we had a 6-foot fence creating a compound and a steel roof, supported by bamboo, covering our container. It looked great and the labor was very reasonable, although the fence and roof materials were $ 2,000 -- but, heck, the bamboo was free!
Our stuff (as I calm down it was no longer crap) was still scattered in our "new compound" and Ruthie's beautiful (and expensive) solid wood office furniture now served as a wonderful work bench. She was praying that the scratches would easily sand out so told her not to be overly upset because the scratches actually resembled Aztec carvings and wasn't that kind of neat, don't you think, Honey? I cannot print her reply!
Let's switch our diary to current day ... .we have yet to find an apartment or a house to rent and this is causing some frustration, but we are continuing our search. Driving back and forth from David to the property each day is expensive and frustrating. To illustrate how frustrated we are, Ruthie actually was contemplating our container as an "abode" however, after sobering up, she changed her mind.
We can find lots of places to rent, but they are either too expensive, not to our standards (these standards, do not apply to the container) or are located in the wrong direction from Villa Davina. Additionally, they are usually not furnished or if they are, most people would be hesitant to "sleep" on some of the beds we have seen. The kitchens are basic at best and there is usually no hot water or appliances ... some days the container is looking better and better ... !
One place that we did find was satisfactory -- actually, quite nice. The problem was that the current tenant could not decide when he was going to move out. When asked he said "this week, maybe next or possibly next month." In hindsight, I probably should have offered to pay his last month's rent, I think would have sealed a deal!
We are going to see another house tomorrow and hopefully it will end up being suitable. If I do not get something BBQ'd soon -- especially some chicken wings -- I am going to kill someone! We really miss our evening ritual of grilling (to our liking) and taking it easy. Eating in restaurants on a regular basis -- sucks and we can'no afford to continually buy more toasters!
Finally, in desperation for a place to live, we opted to buy a small piece of property that adjoins our other property. The purchase was not because the property had any real use to us, it is that it has a "casita" on it that can be fixed up and we can move into it. At least that is the plan. We purchased it three weeks ago and have only managed to take off the metal roof (to get rid of the bats), close in some openings, remove an interior wall, pour a small pad for our BBQ (I need some BBQ chicken wings -- now!) and along the way managed to have all of the electrical wiring stolen -- including the plugs, switches and circuit breakers. Reminds us of Ft. Myers, Florida and the air conditioner thefts!
Well, it is now May and we finally have our casita converted to a "livable" stage. Let's see, it only took from January 7th to May 22nd to find a place to live. Not bad eh? Welcome to Panama. Please keep reminding yourself to be flexible.
Everything gets done -- but in its own time! What would take a day in Canada or the U.S. could take 3 weeks here. Do not confuse the meaning of mañana either as we now realize it does not mean tomorrow -- it really means "not today."
Still, after everything is said and done, the frustrations of moving and living vanish when something as simple as a walk down a street is converted into a joyous event, as you are greeted by friendly, warm hearted individuals.
I had one occasion where a total stranger stopped me as we passed by on the street and asked me (in English) how I was doing and if I needed any help. At first I was wondering if he was a wacko or axe murder, but then realized he wanted to practice his already very good English. We stood on the sidewalk and had a delightful chat for at least 20 minutes. When was the last time you even acknowledged eye contact, let alone talking, to a total stranger for a protracted period while walking down a street in an unfamiliar country?
A real truth about one of the many attractions of Panama (at least in our minds) is the honest, warmhearted attitude of its people. I cannot say this is true for Panama City but, life in the smaller cities like David or the rural areas such as Bugaba or Gariche is a true delight. I can only suggest that you come for a visit and see for yourself.
I suggest you pack your bags, jump on a plane, learn to relax and truly enjoy life. We did -- and it is the best choice we could have made. Now you know that our story is "to be continued" so check us out, see what we are doing and follow our adventures by visiting our website or our continuing adventures on the magazine.
Or, if you wish, drop us an email and request that we add you to our newsletter mailing list or simply feel free to ask any questions that you may have about living in Panama.
We look forward to hearing from you.
CHICHI, AS IN CHICHICASTENANGO, GUATEMALA
The setting is beautiful and the price is right.
We have previously posted the writing of Carter Clews twice. The first one was a general article on how Latin America was becoming the new American Dream. The second one, which kicked off his Clews' Views column, was the first of what is promised to be a series on Latin American "best buys" for "middle-income" people. In that one he extolled the virtues of El Salvador while warning people of the problems faced by Mexico.
Now he is back with a more specific recommendation than a whole country: Chichicastenango, a village of 15,000 in the "verdant western highlands" of Guatemala. Living costs are said to be around $1000 a month or so, on which you can live "very well," and a decent place in town can be had for less than $50,000. Finally, "the people of Chichicastenango are warm, friendly, and well-accustomed to foreigners, largely because of the large number of tourists who visit the weekly markets."
It is hard to argue with that combination ... as long as you are not expecting luxury.
“They have bread and wine
And they don’t divine
Words like yours and mine.
That’s why they’re such good neighbors there.” ~~ Excerpt from “Chichicastenango,” Xavier Cugat, 1937
My oldest, dearest friend, Dennis Brown, joined me for dinner at Washington, D.C.'s, Magic Gourd late last week. It is in Foggy Bottom. Get off the metro, turn right, and go three blocks. It is worth the trip. Would be if it were twice as far. One of the advantages of old friends is that they can say what is on their minds. And Dennis always does.
This time out, he told me he liked the first Clews' Views -- with reservations. His chief reservation was that he wanted to hear about not just countries, but locales; about places where he -- and you -- might actually consider resettling. Right down to the street address. His second reservation was that I had not properly introduced myself. Of course, he was right. So, let me start with the Who; then I will get to the Where.
I am a writer. I have been for nearly 40 years. I have written everything from a myriad of offshore articles like this to direct mail packages for American Express to speeches for members of the Senate to award-winning infomercials, like The Helicopter Lure (with my late friend, the great country comedian Jerry Clower: "That there lure will throw a cravin' on 'em!")
Nowadays, I confine myself to two types of writing, and two types only: politics and destinations. And they are as far apart as night is from day. I do not want to belabor the point, so let us just say that in politics, I try to help people escape their nightmares; with destinations, I try to help you find your dreams. We will leave it at that. Fair enough?
Notice also that I say "destinations," and not "travel." Travel writers wax eloquent about places they think you might want to visit. I write about places I think you may wish to live. What is the difference? Well, when I was a kid growing up in the Baltimore of the 1960s, people frequently were aghast to learn that I lived down in the bowels of the inner city.
I assuaged their fears by telling them that Baltimore was the exact opposite of New York. New York, at the time was known as a place you might want to visit, but would not want to live. The Baltimore of my youth was a place you would likely want to live, but would not want to visit. It is all a matter of acquired tastes -- and understanding that true happiness is, after all, an inside job.
The same is largely true of the places I write about in Latin America. Sure, there are hundreds of venues throughout the Caribbean where anyone who enjoys fresh air, sandy beaches, and turquoise waters would want to spend a week, a month, or even a season in the sun. But, the destinations I want to share with you are the places where you might want to settle in, sit back, and enjoy the often quaint ambiance "till death do you part."
They are destinations where you will want to ply your trade (particularly if you are fortunate enough to be able to "telecommute") ... raise your family, "far from the madding crowd" ... or, as Byron wrote: "Come grow old with me/The best is yet to be/The last of life for which the first was made."
Destinations like Orchid Bay, Belize, a growing community on the Chetumal Bay I once described as "Mayberry by the beach." Destinations like Keyhole Bay on Roatan Island, Honduras, where you will be able to mix all of the amenities of the modern world with the tranquil ebb and flow of bygone days.
And destinations like bonita Chichicastenango (pronounced -- forget it, just do as the natives do and call it "Chichi"), Guatemala, the small (population 15,000) village in the verdant western highlands that Lonely Planet simply calls "magical." With its quaint cobblestone streets, red-tiled roofs, and gleaming white Iglesia de Santo Tomas gracing the town square, Chichi beckons you in with a spiritual air and bids you step back in time to enjoy the old anew.
Let me tell you more about it. Then, you decide for yourself whether it is worth a look. The first question you would likely have is "How would I spend my time?" After all, we are talking here about a move across the border, not a walk around the block. Well, if you are like thousands of the Chichi townspeople and hundreds more tourists, every Thursday and Sunday, you would wistfully wander its narrow streets and adjoining alleys for what Fodor's calls "one of the world's most famous markets."
While that may be a bit of an overstatement, it is not that far off. The Chichicastenango market features row after row of brightly colored stalls offering an unimaginable array of dazzling handmade items -- not to mention fresh-picked produce and delectable cuisine. Music and mouth-watering aromas mingle in the spring-like air. And the locals will assure you that there is no better place on God's good earth to be -- especially if you are absorbing it all from high atop the upper floor of the Centro Comercial building on the north side of the central plaza.
From December 14 through 21, you will want to set all else aside to take part in Chichi's spectacular Fiesta de Santos Tomas. Chichi, you will find, combines Mayan and Catholic religious cultures, and the Fiesta proudly features the best of both.
Live bands perform throughout. Clouds of incense fill the air. Traditional dances (Including the breathtaking Palo Volador, in which men swing perilously to the ground from a 20-meter pole) add a distinctive air of excitement. Fireworks boom. Colorful processions are the order of the day. And at the end of the Fiesta, all babies born the previous year are brought to the church for baptism.
Now, since I know that many, if not most, who consider relocating to the Caribbean come "for the waters," as Rick told Captain Renault, let me hasten to say that there are no waters in Chichi. [We suppose that anyone who did come to Chichi for the waters would be "misinformed."] But, only miles away is a 130 square kilometer lake of such stunning beauty that Aldous Huxley described it as "touching the limit of permissibly picturesque." Lake Atitlan, whose name translates "the place where the rainbow gets its color," lies at the base of towering volcanic mountains and floats in the sky a mile above sea level. And, oh yes, if you bring along your Helicopter Lures, the bass angling is great, particularly after the spring spawn.
For those who wish to visit you in Chichicastenango -- for the revelry of the Fiesta, the allure of the market, or the simple serenity of daily life -- buses arrive from Guatemala City at the corner of 5 Calle and 5 Avenido on a continuing basis. Should your guests wish to drive the 140 kilometers from the capital city, the modern Pan-American Highway will deliver them almost to Chichi's doorstep.
Allow me to add here the caveat that life in Chichi is decidedly not for everyone. I have long categorized re-settlers into three distinct groups (on a rising scale of creature comforts): the Pioneers, who do not mind a little austerity; the Provincials, who expect all the modern amenities; and the Pampered, who consider Holiday Inn roughing it a bit.
Chichi at this point in time is essentially for the Pioneers. Thrill-seekers need not apply. Nor should those whose idea of a good time is the big city and bright lights. But, for two types of Pioneers, in particular, Chichi might be ideal, indeed.
The first are independent adventurers of any age who can work via the Internet and enjoy cutting their own swathe in life. If you have children, the elementary and secondary schools are adequate, particularly if supplemented by homeschooling.
The second are self-contained Baby Boomer couples who have arrived at a point in life where their best friends are each other, and a handful of close acquaintances more than suffices. Jerry Seinfeld once remarked that by the time most people are 30, their friendship card is pretty well filled. If that includes you, Chichi may be chi-chi enough to last you a lifetime.
Either group will find that they can live very well on $1,000, or so a month. That includes rent, utilities, eating in, dining out, maid service, and a gardener should you so desire. You can buy a few acres of land for a few thousand dollars outside of town. And you should be able to find a more than adequate abode in town for no more than $25,000 to $50,000.
The people of Chichicastenango are warm, friendly, and well-accustomed to foreigners, largely because of the large number of tourists who visit the weekly markets. Their deep religiosity is reflected not only in their own demeanor, but in their treatment of others, as well. In short, the Golden Rule reigns. There is virtually no crime. You can sleep with your doors and windows open to enjoy the cool, crisp evening breeze.
In the name of full disclosure, and in closing, allow me to add that I, myself, am currently considering property in or around Chichicastenango. It is peaceful. It is picturesque. It is perfectly priced. And it is a great place both to live and to visit. I think you will find it well worth the trip. As it would be were it twice as far.
PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR STARTING A CARIBBEAN-BASED BUSINESS
The author of this piece left her native U.K. over 20 years ago and has lived in former English colony Antigua for 15 years. She runs her own business, Paperworks, providing accounting, tax advice and business services to local business owners -- both expats and native Antiguans.
We find it to be another useful background article for those thinking of expatriating to Latin American. No one of them comes close to giving the comprehensive picture -- not the least because every country is different -- but collectively they stimulate a lot of thinking and bring up many considerations that need to be thought through before making The Move.
There is no doubt that the dream of giving up a job in dreary UK and moving to the Caribbean holds many rosy qualities. The sun always shines, a warm breeze caresses the skin, the pace of life is slower, people smile at you a lot and everyone seems happier.
Chances are, this view you hold so dear to your heart was established on a once in a lifetime vacation. Taking a holiday in the islands is usually the first step to people falling in love with the place, but is it realistic?
“Wherever you go, there you are.” ~~ Anon
There are no truer words or sentiments that describe the dichotomy between the life we search for and the one we already have. If you think that moving to the Caribbean will make you less of a workaholic, or your partner more dedicated, then you will be sorely disappointed. The Atlantic will not dissolve our natural traits as you fly your way across it. Whatever you are in your hometown is what you will bring with you to your new location. Changing geography does not mean changing attitudes.
Target your target market ...
Remember that the client base you provide a service to changes with geography. Let us say you run a very successful wine bar and bistro in the heart of the London -- success often depends on giving the customer what they want. The lawyer in a suit may crave sushi and chardonnay after a day at the office, but your client base here in the Caribbean may be after rum and nachos -- can you be flexible in your approach?
One business that has been very successful at exactly that is the C&C wine bar in St. John's, the capital of Antigua. C&C is a tiny hole in the wall operation providing assorted wines and platters of cheese or pate, together with great personal service and a comfortable atmosphere. Part of their success no doubt stems from the fact that it is unique -- if you yearn for a chilled glass of something sophisticated after work, then this is really your only choice (albeit a great one).
Will you cater to the tourist or residents, locals or expats? Another example of a wildly successful business catering to the large expat community in Antigua is Mr Chippy. Yes, you guessed it right, this is a classic mobile fish and chip van. Great quality fish and chips complete with mushy peas. Not surprisingly, this is run by a Brit and the primary target markets are the Brit on vacation as well as the expat with a craving for a taste of home.
It is not just the English homing in to provide nostalgia for the roaming expat. Italians come and open pasta restaurants, South Africans import their local wines, Chinese offer the classic Cantonese take out and Australians open dive shops. The reverse is also true -- native Antiguans living abroad, return home hoping to tempt the local palates with an international flare to the standard Caribbean cuisine.
Location, location, location ...
Antigua is my home country -- I have lived here for over 15 years and feel more comfortable here in the islands than in the vast melting pots of Europe. As such, my knowledge about starting a business in this particular location is greater than for other places up and down the Caribbean chain. Antigua is English-speaking with many laws and customs continuing from a time before Antigua broke free from its UK ties and became independent.
As such it is an ideal place for many Europeans to make a new start and carve out a new future. It is a country slowly but surely pulling itself away from the banana growing, sugar plantation economy and planting instead international and worldly ideas such as banking, gaming, tourism and the internet.
Unlike the British Virgin Islands where citizenship ("belonger" status) can rarely be achieved regardless of how long you live there, or Bequia which by its very inaccessibility makes it a dreamy destination, but not that practical to get to, Antigua has many sound qualities to recommend it: An international airport big enough for the largest long haul jets, an amazing web of wireless internet access making global communication and worldwide business operation incredibly easy, a currency that is tied to the U.S. dollar and therefore easy to value, relatively low taxation, a stable government and the opportunity to become a citizen and really belong to the country you have invested in.
The French and Dutch islands such as St. Martin, Guadeloupe and Curaçao have the advantage of native language if you originate from either of those European centres, and in fact the French islands are still officially part of mainland France as far as currency, laws and immigration status are concerned. For the American looking to relocate, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico afford a nice compromise between a sunshine lifestyle and an easy transition without immigration hassles, but for the Brit abroad there are few places better suited than Antigua.
What about the recession I hear you say?
It cannot be denied that the global economy has and will affect our island nation. We may be remote geographically, but our alliance with the world at large may be our downfall in the short term. The primary export for Antigua and Barbuda is tourism -- a great slogan bandied about a few years ago was "Tourism is everybody's business."
In a recession, where even the very affluent are pulling in the reins on their spending, going on vacation is not high on the list of priorities. As 2008 draws to a close, hotels and associated service and supply industries are reporting a down turn of some 40% on last year's figures. November to May is high season here, with the Christmas period being one of the busiest, and yet hotels in Antigua are laying off workers at what should be the peak of the tourist season.
With hotel occupancy down and fewer tourists in general, the corresponding support industries are feeling the pinch. Prices have yet to increase, people are still eager to encourage spending where possible, but this may only delay an unavoidable outcome in the future.
Antigua is not the cheapest place in the Caribbean, and further price hikes may tip the balance when it comes to where a tourist chooses to spend their dollar.
For two years, as the pound grew strong against the American dollar, the Caribbean in general was a relatively cheap destination, but at today's rates your pound sterling will only buy you US$1.50.
This in and of itself will reduce revenues into the Caribbean as a whole -- not the best time to start a new investment perhaps.
“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” ~~ Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
After all is said and done, there are still many reasons to live and work in the Caribbean. If weather is a huge factor in your personal level of sunshine and happiness, then sticking it out in the UK will not bring a smile to your face, and in fact the global recession may be a blessing in disguise. Many people across the globe are facing layoffs and redundancy, pension funds are shrinking and retirement may suddenly be looking very bleak. But what if you have just received an early retirement pension or golden handshake -- here is an opportunity to recreate your life in a way that you want it.
Taking any savings and plunging it into a new business scheme, especially in a foreign land, is always a gamble -- speculating all you currently own for a possible sunny future is a risk and must not be taken lightly. However, many people who have diligently invested their hard earned wages in stocks and bonds and pension schemes with their associated low risk potential are now being faced with a much smaller income than they had every right to expect. Safe investment in your future might need to come in different forms now.
Going back to the beginning, if it is true to say "wherever you, go there you are", then equally, "whatever you are now, you can still be" in whichever location you choose. If your circumstances in UK, Europe or USA are bleak, sitting in rain and cold and grey surroundings, wishing for the life of Paul Gauguin or Ernest Hemingway and a little sunshine in your life, perhaps the one thing that you truly can change is geography.
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places” ~~ Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, 1929
I mention Gauguin and Hemingway for very good reason -- as artists, writers and craftsmen everywhere have found, although working for oneself may be daunting with its lack of financial security, in the current economic landscape it can actually be refreshing not to risk your whole existence on the potential prosperity of an employer. You cannot make yourself redundant, and any successes are yours to own. If you are lucky enough to have a skill that not only pleases you but is also worth something to others, then pursuing this on a Caribbean island might be just the future for you.
The slow pace of life which, in pursuing a business career can be frustrating and difficult, is likely a blessing to the artist or author who sees inspiration within the banana leaves and hummingbirds, the earth tones of sand and coral, aquamarine, emerald, lime and sunshine. Taking time to view the world in its clarity and purity, away from the pall of pollution, the blaze of neon lights -- watching nature, watching you -- is the ultimate lifestyle and work style many crave. And, countless people have gone before you and done exactly that.
Gilly Gobinet is one of the Caribbean's best known artists and illustrators. Originally from the UK, she settled in Antigua in 1984 and has become internationally renowned for her watercolor portrayals of the flora and fauna of the islands. Recently she has also published books on Caribbean cooking, cocktails and favourite places to visit. Not only has Antigua given her inspiration, but it has also given her a home and livelihood.
Another example of successful artistry is Cedar Pottery. Imogen Margrie and Michael Hunt have made Antigua their home for many years. Michael is a returning Antiguan who met Imogen at Art College in the UK. Since settling back in the Caribbean they have produced items for the home such as wall light sconces, ceramic mugs and fountains, as well as works of art such as sculptures and carvings.
Are You Free?
There is a story about how to catch monkeys in Africa. Make a hole in the side of a tree, just small enough for the monkey to reach into. Bait the trap with nuts and other delicious treats and sit back and watch. The monkey can squeeze its hand in and steal the nuts, but now with a clenched fist it cannot pull out again -- it is trapped. Luckily for the watcher the monkey is not bright enough to drop the things he has and therefore become free again.
Many times I have heard over the years how, "I would love to travel and live in the Caribbean, but I have a house/job/dog/dishwasher and I just can't leave." Well, guess what, if you find yourself out of a job with a severance package that will keep you going for a while, instead of seeing this as being trapped, judge yourself as having just been set free.
The biggest mistake made by anyone eager for a life in the islands is to invest in a place you have only seen through tourist eyes. Setting up a new life is no easy task wherever it may be, so you need to ask yourself several questions, such as; are you prepared to find new places and faces, make new friends, change your eating habits, give up old ideals and replace them with new ones? Time will be the test to see if it suits you, and giving yourself time to find these things out is as excellent an investment as you can make.
If you are looking for a new venture in the Caribbean, consider speculating on yourself and your own abilities, and if you are seeking a lifestyle change, then perhaps right here in our glorious Caribbean is where you fill find your dream.
GLOBAL CRACKDOWN RIPS VEIL OFF BANK SECRECY
“Unprecedented coordination among governments to go after tax revenues associated with assets and income located abroad.”
There is no doubt that the current assault on offshore center client privacy by the high-tax welfare/warfare states is unprecendented in its ferocity and coordination. What will remain on the other side is anyone's guess -- we doubt it will disappear entirely. Here we see that even the U.K. and U.S. are at last being called out as offshore centers (by a leftist anti-offshore advocacy group, to be sure).
A longer-run wildcard, in our minds, is the rise of China. The timing of that has been thrown off by events of the last year, but China is the one economic power that will eventually be able to tell everyone else to bug off. Hong Kong and Singapore will benefit concommitantly.
Offshore financial centers that have thrived under a veil of bank secrecy will have to embrace transparency to survive a global crackdown on tax cheats that is now focused on the private banking sector in Switzerland and beyond.
A U.S. tax fraud investigation of UBS, the world's largest wealth manager, is showing that Washington is serious about chasing tax dodgers at a time when it is desperate for revenue to revive its ailing financial sector. In Europe, Britain has joined Germany and France in the battle against tax havens and has put the item on the agenda of a Group of 20 meeting on April 2.
"The pressure is on to crack down on offshore centers," said Dermot Butler, chairman of Custom House, which provides onshore and offshore funds. "The long-term effects on the Caribbean, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein is that those who were suspicious of them will be even more so."
Offshore banks, which serve non-resident individuals, manage an estimated $7 trillion of wealth worldwide, 1/3 of which is in the leading offshore financial center of Switzerland. From Andorra to Singapore, offshore centers all have some form of bank secrecy in place preventing the foreign tax authorities from accessing a client's accounts at will.
The lobby group Tax Justice Network says that up to 75 countries, including countries like Belgium, Austria, Britain and even the United States, should also be considered offshore centers. The group adds that the tax authorities overlook a large portion of the undeclared wealth stashed abroad.
But matters are changing rapidly.
"The writing has been on the wall for many years," said Philip Marcovici, partner and tax expert at the law firm Baker & McKenzie. "What we are seeing, however, is unprecedented coordination among governments to go after tax revenues associated with assets and income located abroad."
The U.S-Swiss standoff on UBS is being watched closely by the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, which is toughening rules to catch tax cheats inside and outside the 27-nation bloc.
Liechtenstein, a non-EU secrecy stronghold that is the target of German pressure, made a U-turn in December by agreeing to share some tax data with Washington. It is now prepared to open up further if Western states allow its bank clients to bring money onshore without hefty repercussions, the country's prime minister said this month.
Belgium, a little-known haven within the EU, has said it was considering moving toward automatic exchange of tax data with other EU governments.
Privacy laws in Luxembourg, one of Switzerland's closest allies in Europe and an advocate of banking secrecy, have been questioned after a fraud orchestrated by Bernard Madoff engulfed some of its funds and exposed weak regulatory supervision.
Some bankers say that weakening bank secrecy in Switzerland and other European centers will benefit Singapore, which aspires to become a leading offshore hub and which is less exposed to EU pressure since it does not rely on trading with the bloc.
Ivan Pictet, managing partner at the private Swiss bank Pictet & Cie, predicted last week that the Swiss financial industry could shrink by half if banking secrecy were to be dropped. But Jonathan Ivinson, partner and head of tax issues at the law firm Hogan & Hartson, said he did not expect to see a third of the world's offshore banking industry decamping from the Alps to Asia.
"Banking secrecy is not only something for rich people -- it is also for the German middle class, and they do not like to go to Singapore," said Konrad Hummler, who heads the Swiss private bankers' association and Switzerland's oldest bank, Wegelin.
Banking secrecy, which was enshrined in law in Switzerland in the 1930s and was subsequently embraced by other financial centers, has already been weakened over the last 10 to 15 years. The numbered accounts shown in many spy movies are a thing of the past since the introduction of strict money-laundering rules.
Some bankers say Swiss secrecy would survive the latest attack, but they added that it would be a different kind of secrecy.
"It has survived the past 75 years. I believe it will also survive the next 75 years," Oswald Grübel, who was appointed chief executive of UBS on Thursday (February 26), said to the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger. "But it will adapt to the market changes."
“No Talk of Putting Switzerland on Blacklist”
But Switzerland has underestimated the political pressures building up over banking secrecy.
This interesting interview of British ambassador to Switzerland John Nichols by swissinfo highlights how quickly the rules are shifting in the offshore secrecy game. For instance, the agonizingly negotiated European Savings Tax Directive contained what might be considered a "loophole" in that it only applied to natural persons, not artificial legal entities. Any renegotiation to eliminate the "loophole" would presumptively have involved another multi-year renegotiation.
Perhaps not. With the advent of the worldwide financial crisis and governments' still greater desperation to grab whatever they can get their hands on, the forces being aligned against Switzerland and other offshore havens is greater than even Switzerland had realized.
The G20 member countries have not specifically discussed putting Switzerland on a tax haven blacklist, according to the British ambassador to Switzerland.
But Switzerland has underestimated the political pressures building up over banking secrecy and the change of mood in countries that have been badly hit by the financial crisis, John Nichols tells swissinfo.
Switzerland's tradition of banking secrecy has come under renewed pressure recently. The country's largest financial institution, UBS, is the subject of a major United States probe into whether it conspired to defraud the US government of taxes owed by thousands of American clients. The Swiss government came under fire last week after it allowed UBS to disclose the identity of about 300 of its U.S. clients to avert criminal charges.
The European Union is also mounting a renewed campaign against tax havens deemed to be uncooperative ahead of a meeting of 20 of the world's largest economies in London in April.
swissinfo: French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he has not ruled out that Switzerland could be placed on a tax haven blacklist of the G20 countries. What is Britain's position?
John Nichols: Just recently British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that one of the topics for the G20 would be to look at tax havens [as they are] broadly defined, and to try to find a new framework for them to sign up to.
There has been no specific talk about putting Switzerland on a blacklist and as far as I know no specific talk about blacklists. There is already a blacklist structure managed by the OECD and Switzerland does not feature on those lists.
In recent months there has been a rapid change in the mood of the man in the street. People are beginning to realize that sorting out the aftermath of the financial crisis will mean increased taxes for everyone, not just for their lifetimes but for their children as well.
They are also realizing that there are a number of people who, by whatever methods, do not pay their full contribution to the tax bill. This is building up an extraordinary amount of political pressure on leaders throughout the western world. People in the street do not like this and want their politicians to do something about it.
Which is equivalent to asking the fox to do something about the missing hens problem.
Have the Swiss underestimated political pressures that are felt by other countries?
I think they have. By and large, Switzerland has not been hit by the financial crisis in the same way as other countries. I do not think there is full realization of just how much pressure is building up in the system.
Is the tide turning against banking secrecy?
I do not think there is any doubt about that. But it is not just something that has blown up in the last few months or years. Negotiations on greater transparency have been going on at the OECD for an extremely long time.
What has given it greater urgency and edge has been the financial crisis, but it is also the election of the Obama government, which made its views perfectly clear in the run up to the November elections last year.
In the long term will Switzerland be able to maintain its distinction between tax evasion and tax fraud?
The English-speaking world has a great deal of difficulty with those concepts. Under English law, tax avoidance -- employing experts not to find loopholes but working with the law to pay as little tax as possible -- is entirely legal. But tax evasion, driving a coach and horses through the law, is absolutely illegal and always has been.
The Swiss tendency to say "tax evasion is alright and there is a distinction with tax fraud" is not one that is easy to understand in an Anglo-Saxon country. I think that there will need to be changes there.
Critics say targeting Switzerland in a global crackdown on offshore regimes reeks of double standards as nine of the 31 tax havens on the current OECD black list are under British control. What is your response?
It is important to realize that the arguments that applied six months ago are just no longer there. We are in a totally new ball game. The British Chancellor commissioned a review into the Crown dependencies and overseas territories last November with the aim of bringing them into the same sort of framework.
A number of those countries, Jersey, Guernsey, Bermuda, the Isle of Man and the British Virgin Islands, have all signed tax information exchange agreements and are negotiating more. They are starting to move into a framework where their operations are much more transparent, and this is not an area where Switzerland has moved very far on.
There have been a number of complaints about Switzerland's withholding tax rules, which are full of holes. Do we want to renegotiate those?
The short answer is yes. If there are loopholes they need to be closed. This is an immense agenda that is landing at great speed.
Switzerland has not been invited to the G20 meeting. How will it be able to make its voice heard?
There was a real difficulty over invitations, as Switzerland was not the only country that wanted to be sat around the table apart from the original G20.
I have instructions to talk to senior officials here to ensure their views are fed into the London process. But do not forget that Switzerland is a member of the Financial Stability Forum, one of the bodies that feed into the work of the G20.
And there are a number of other working groups, which were set up at the G20 meeting in Washington last November, and the co-chairs accept representations from anyone.
Switzerland is entirely free to contribute to those groups and I hope it is taking full advantage of that.
Which Switzerland plans on doing:
Luxembourg, Austria and Switzerland to Discuss Forthcoming “Blacklist”
The Swiss Finance Ministry has announced that it will hold a tripartite forum with Luxembourg and Austria to discuss the G20's meetings on "tax havens," and the implications of a new blacklist of unco-operative jurisdictions.
Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz will hold the meetings, in his capacity as Finance Minister, with his respective counterparts on March 8. The meeting will take place in Luxembourg and will serve primarily to coordinate points of common interest of the financial centres in the international environment. The talks will cover a range of issues including the debate surrounding a possible blacklist of so-called "tax havens."
The concept of what constitutes an "uncooperative jurisdiction" or tax haven, has yet to be fully defined by members of the G20, but it has raised significant concerns amongst offshore territories as to its implications. Whether the test will feature specific criteria, or simply require that a jurisdiction be deemed to have had a significant impact upon the tax revenues of wealthier nations, is not yet clear.
It is thought that a list of "uncooperative jurisdictions" will be named ahead of the G20 summit, in the coming weeks.
German Finance Minister Says Swiss Must Improve Tax Cooperation
Switzerland is getting pressure from everywhere. Dark mutterings of sanctions abound. Which threats will actually be implemented? The outcome is not only important for privacy and asset protection, but will be telling overall with regard to what political freedom will be left at all in the world.
German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck said Switzerland should change laws that shield foreign tax dodgers from investigation in their home countries.
"We seek an exchange of data also in cases of tax evasion," Steinbrueck told reporters in Paris today (3-3). Germany expects an exchange of "all necessary information" to help the country's tax authorities fight tax evasion, he said.
Tax evasion is not considered a crime in Switzerland, and authorities currently lift bank secrecy only if an account holder committed tax fraud. Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer- Schlumpf said yesterday the government may consider cooperation in cases of "gross" tax evasion.
As discussed in the interview above, the distinction between tax evasion and tax fraud is not one that most people understand.
European Union leaders from the Group of 20 nations said last month they will crack down on tax havens as they seek to boost transparency and apply uniform rules governing financial markets in the wake of the global economic crisis. They called for "sanctions" against "uncooperative jurisdictions." The issue will discussed at a G-20 meeting in London in April.
Steinbrueck said he is happy that the U.S. "has made progress" in softening up Switzerland's banking secrecy.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said March 2 at a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels he does not rule out that Switzerland might be placed on a list of uncooperative tax havens being drawn up by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Funds held offshore by individuals or companies to evade taxes or escape from political instability in their home countries total "somewhere between $5 trillion and $7 trillion," according to OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria. The Paris-based OECD currently names Andorra, Monaco and Liechtenstein as uncooperative tax havens and is considering a new "black list."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she does not have "a concrete idea about such a list." Steinbrueck has said the G-20 should take "concrete measures" against "uncooperative or non- transparent jurisdictions."
ANTI-TAX HAVEN BILL COMING, SAY U.S. SENATE AIDES
A bill introduced last year which included then-Senator Obama as a co-sponsor will be reintroduced this week.
Offshore tax havens used by rich Americans in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and other nations are targeted for shutdown by a bill to be offered in the U.S. Senate on Monday (March 2), said senior Senate aides.
In legislation that expands on a bill co-sponsored last year with then-Senator Barack Obama, Senator Carl Levin will propose a broad crackdown on tax avoidance schemes estimated to deprive the U.S. government of more than $100 billion a year.
The bill comes just two days ahead of a Senate hearing where a senior UBS AG executive is due to testify about an investigation of the Swiss banking giant.
"Offshore tax haven and tax shelter abuses are undermining the integrity of our tax system," said Levin in a statement given to Reuters. "We cannot tolerate $100 billion in offshore tax abuses burning a hole through our budget each year. We can fight back against secrecy jurisdictions and shut down offshore tax abuses if we have the political will."
We could come up with a long list of projects which would improve the integrity of the U.S. tax system and political system in general. Let us start with something super obvious, like employees of the U.S. government obeying the oaths they take to support the U.S. Constitution. That alone would obviate the need for anyone to use tax shelters or offshore financial services. But we suppose the "political will" for such measures is lacking.
Companion legislation is expected to be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, the aides said. Both bills will face committee review and some political opposition. Bankers at UBS and other financial institutions have long been among the largest contributors to U.S. politicians' campaigns.
This should be interesting ...
Since last year, three provisions have been added to the Senate bill. One would classify U.S.-controlled foreign corporations as domestic for income tax purposes. Another would close an offshore tax dividend loophole that lets people dodge payment of U.S. taxes on U.S. stock dividends, the aides said. The third provision would expand tax reporting requirements for passive foreign investment corporations, they said.
The current requirements are already onerous enough to discourage their use.
Separately in Washington, Switzerland's justice minister met on Monday with a senior U.S. Justice Department official to discuss international finance issues.
Wealthy Americans avoid more than $100 billion a year in taxes by hiding assets offshore, according to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations chaired by Levin.
Among other provisions, the legislation being reintroduced by Levin, a Michigan Democrat, would make it easier for federal authorities to pursue possible tax evaders by putting more onus on them to show offshore shelters are legitimate.
Mark Branson, chief financial officer of UBS Global Wealth Management and Swiss Bank, is scheduled to be a witness at a subcommittee hearing on Wednesday. Swiss banks and their clients are closely watching U.S. government probes of UBS and what they could mean for Switzerland's long history of banking secrecy.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner: U.S. to Fight International Tax Dodgers
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Tuesday (March 3) that the Obama administration will take actions to tackle international tax dodgers. The administration seeks to close the "tax gap" by tackling tax shelters and other efforts to abuse the tax laws, including international tax evasion efforts, Geithner said in a written testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee.
He was talking about key revenue provisions in Obama's first budget submitted to Congress last week. "Tax gap" is the difference between what taxpayers legally owe and the amount that they pay.
The budget addresses the use of offshore structures and accounts by U.S. corporations and individuals to avoid and evade U.S. taxes, he said.
"Over the next several months, the President will propose a series of legislative and enforcement measures to reduce such U.S. tax evasion and avoidance," said the secretary. "Some proposals will focus on the rules in our tax code that put those who invest and create jobs in the United States at a disadvantage."
"We will propose rules to both reform U.S. corporations' ability to defer foreign earnings and defer high income individuals and corporations from using tax havens to avoid taxation," he added.
We foresee a bull market in reincorporations overseas, with the U.S. former parent becoming the subsidiary of the overseas new parent. That would presumably put the former overseas subsidiaries' profits out of the reach of the U.S. Treasury.
Obama's first budget, the budget for the 2010 fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1, 2009, cuts taxes for 95% of working Americans and provides additional tax relief for lower-income families and students seeking higher educations. It also includes tax provisions to help small businesses, Geithner said.
The budget also seeks to restore fairness to the tax code, he said. "For example, the budget proposes to tax the compensation paid to hedge fund managers, private equity partners and others in the same way that we tax the wages paid to ordinary American workers."
How about getting rid of the fiat money system so that all the phoney profits hedge fund managers base their compensation on do not even exist in the first place? Geithner ought to understand how that works, right?
IRS Chief Promises No Hiding Place for Offshore Tax Evaders
At Senate hearings this week IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman promised a full-fledged assault on "wealthy offshore tax evaders" -- putting a few words in his mouth. A major enforcement mechanism is the QI Program which guarantees foreign banks the access to the U.S. financial system in exchange for certain reporting/withholding requirements for their U.S. clients. At the risk of broken-record syndrome:
Let us hope and pray there are not too many bodies between today and when what will come to pass comes to pass.
IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman told a Senate panel at a hearing on March 4 that the agency intends to deploy a number of weapons to counter international and offshore tax avoidance, including a beefed-up Qualified Intermediary program.
"It is of paramount importance to our system of voluntary compliance with the tax law that citizens of this country have confidence that the system is fair," Shulman stated in prepared testimony for delivery at the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing on offshore banks and U.S. tax compliance.
"We cannot allow an environment to develop where wealthy individuals can go offshore and avoid paying taxes with impunity," Shulman stated, adding that the IRS intends to "aggressively" pursue individuals and institutions that facilitate unlawful tax avoidance.
Shulman informed the committee that he has already stepped up audits in this area over the last five months, and that he intends to hire more investigators with international expertise. However, he conceded that there is no "silver bullet" compliance solution, and therefore the IRS and other government agencies would deploy a number of strategies to encircle the non-compliant, including through collaboration with national tax administrators at the Joint International Tax Shelter Information Center (JITSIC), and, notably, through an enhanced QI program.
The QI program was established in 2000 to encourage foreign banks to report details of their US clients to the IRS for income tax purposes. Banks participating in the program are offered the carrot of guaranteed access to the U.S. market, and get to withhold tax on client income at a lower rate. However, there has been growing evidence that Americans determined to hide their assets from the U.S. tax man can easily do so by exploiting the system's flaws, in some cases with the help of the banks.
Shulman told the panel that the IRS and Treasury Department are considering a number of changes to the QI program, including expanding information reporting requirements to include more sources of income for U.S. persons with accounts at QI banks, strengthening documentation rules and requiring withholding for accounts with documentation that is considered insufficient.
Additionally, the IRS has already proposed changes that would shore up the QI program in "substantial ways," Shulman stated. Under these proposals, which were put out to consultation in October 2008, financial institutions that are QIs must provide early notification of material failure of internal controls, must improve evaluation of risk of circumvention of U.S. taxation by U.S. persons, and must include audit oversight by a U.S. auditor.
Shulman also requested at the hearing that Congress extend the time to assess a tax liability with respect to offshore issues from 3 years to 6 years. Concluding his testimony, Shulman assured the panel that the IRS intends to be at the forefront of the new charge against offshore.
"Because this is a global problem, it will require a closely coordinated strategy among nations dedicated to ending this scourge that deprives our country of precious resources and erodes confidence in the fairness of effectiveness of our tax administration system," he stated.
Think Tanks Denounce Senate’s “Kangaroo Court” Tax Haven Hearing
“Fundamental tax reform is the responsible way of dealing with tax evasion.”
Spokespeople from free market think tanks the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Cato Institute, and the Mercatus Center have attempted to inject some rationality into the "tax haven" witch-hunt. Their success will probably mirror their 17th century counterparts' attempts to bring the mob to its senses in Salem Village, Massachusetts.
According to the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, the latest tax haven hearing put together by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations serves only to demonize low tax jurisdictions while overlooking pro-growth changes that would protect human rights and reduce tax evasion.
The hearing, scheduled for March 4 and entitled "Tax Haven Banks and U.S. Tax Compliance -- Obtaining the Names of US Clients with Swiss Accounts," will continue the Subcommittee's ongoing examination of offshore financial institutions and their alleged role in facilitating tax evasion by U.S. clients. The hearing follows the introduction of the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act by committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin and witness panels include John DiCicco, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Tax Division, US Department of Justice, Doug Shulman, IRS Commissioner, and Mark Branson, Chief Financial Officer, UBS Global Wealth Management.
"Because of their hostility to tax competition, some politicians have always resented nations such as Switzerland," remarked Andrew Quinlan, President of the CF&P. "Instead of persecuting a nation with a strong tradition of human rights and a better tax system, Senator Levin's Subcommittee should consider the following two questions: If Swiss banks are obliged to put American law above Swiss law, does this mean that American banks should be required to put foreign law above U.S. law? Academic evidence strongly indicates that tax compliance is undermined by high tax rates, so why are Senator Levin and other politicians not supporting fundamental tax reforms that would reduce tax evasion and tax avoidance?" Quinlan asked.
Concurring, Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute, another free market think tank, notes that Switzerland's human rights policy on privacy is "something that should be emulated, not persecuted."
"Fundamental tax reform, meanwhile, is the responsible way of dealing with tax evasion," Mitchell added.
Meanwhile, Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center warns that such a heavy-handed approach to the issue could be self-defeating for the U.S. and ultimately drive investment out of the country.
"Switzerland is a major investor in the United States, providing the capital to create jobs and strengthen our financial system. The assault against so-called tax havens not only threatens Swiss sovereignty but also risks driving away much needed capital from the American economy," she said.
U.S. NAMES FOUR CARIBBEAN COMMUNITY MEMBER STATES AMONG 59 MAJOR MONEY LAUNDERING JURISDICTIONS
List not based on anti-money laundering measures per se.
The U.S. State Department, in its infinite wisdom, has cast its eyes around the globe and come up with a list of countries which it declares are not doing enough to combat money laundering. Now some of the criteria for inclusion on the list are reasonable -- if you are willing to overlook the fact that a large portion of the "crimes" whose proceeds are being laudered are victimless, and are willing to concede that bureaucratic logic is reasonable as long as it is consistent. For example, anti-money laundering legislation is one thing, but enforcement is another. If there have been no money laundering prosecutions, as is claimed to be the case for Antigua and Barbuda, then, yes, one might declare that in effect the legislation de facto is not in effect.
But we smell the usual rat when the U.S. report says this: Antigua and Barbuda "remains susceptible to money laundering due to its offshore financial sector and Internet gaming industry." Yes, folks, domestic gambling interests must be protected even if that shaves a few percentage points off the GDP of a much poorer nation. And, of course, having an offshore financial sector is itself a crime. Same old wine, and the bottle is not even new.
The United States has named four Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states among 59 major money laundering jurisdictions.
In its 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the State Department identified Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize and Haiti among "jurisdictions of primary concern, whose financial institutions engage in currency transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from international narcotics trafficking.
"The category 'Jurisdiction of Primary Concern' recognizes this relationship by including all countries and other jurisdictions whose financial institutions engage in transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from all serious crimes.
"Thus, the focus in considering whether a country or jurisdiction should be included in this category is on the significance of the amount of proceeds laundered, not of the anti-money laundering measures taken."
The State Department also listed nine CARICOM states as "Jurisdictions of Concern." They are Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago. Dominica is named among "Jurisdictions Monitored."
The agency said "Jurisdictions of Concern" and "Other Jurisdictions Monitored" are identified on the basis of several factors, including whether the country's financial institutions engage in transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from serious crimes; the extent to which the jurisdiction is or remains vulnerable to money laundering, notwithstanding its money laundering countermeasures, if any; and the nature and extent of the money laundering situation in each jurisdiction, whether it involves drugs or other contraband.
The State Department said, every year, U.S. officials from agencies with anti-money laundering responsibilities meet to assess the money laundering situations in 200 jurisdictions.
It said while Antigua and Barbuda has comprehensive legislation in place to regulate its financial sector, it "remains susceptible to money laundering due to its offshore financial sector and Internet gaming industry.
"Illicit proceeds from the transshipment of narcotics and from financial crimes occurring in the U.S. also are laundered in Antigua and Barbuda," the report said.
It said the Baldwin Spencer administration has taken steps to combat money laundering and terrorist financing by "passing relevant legislation that applies to both domestic and offshore financial institutions, and establishing a thorough regulatory regime.
"Despite the comprehensive nature of the law, Antigua and Barbuda has yet to prosecute a money laundering case and there are few arrests or prosecutions," the State Department said. "More comprehensive investigations could lead to higher numbers of arrests, prosecutions, and convictions."
"Continued efforts should be made to enhance the capacity of law enforcement and customs authorities to recognize money laundering typologies that fall outside the formal financial sector," it added.
The State Department said continued international co-operation, particularly with regard to the "timely sharing of statistics and information related to offshore institutions, and enforcement of foreign civil asset forfeiture orders will likewise enhance Antigua and Barbuda's ability to combat money laundering."
So the U.S. agenda is pretty clear: Do whatever we say and act like a total puppet state and we will take you off the list. Deal?
ANTIGUA MOVES QUICKLY TO SEIZE BACK STANFORD’S IDYLLIC ISLAND
Ownership of island, previously obscured in BVI company, revealed in U.S. legal filing.
As Jon Bon Jovi might put it: Sir Allen Stanford gives offshore a bad name. (Stanford was knighted by Antigua, not Britain. He was the first American to be so honored.) Assuming the charges leveled at Standford over the past few weeks are true -- there is an awful lot of smoke here -- he used a matrix of offshore entities to cover up a multitude of fraudulent activities. He also used it to disguise his ownership of an environmentally sensitive island (idyllic photograph of idyllic island here) in Antigua, Guiana, which he was attempting to develop with a luxury project.
Stanford is Antigua's 2nd-largest employer (behind #1 the government, natch), and undoubtedly has greased a lot of palms along the way. The proposed development has engendered more than its share of controversy over the years. (We later discovered the followup posting immediately below, which offers more details on the greased palms and the controversy.) Stanford's ownership interest in the company that owned Guiana only surfaced a few days ago, following the allegations of financial scandal. Antigua is moving to seize the island, which potentially introduces an ownership dispute between the Antigua government and a U.S. court receiver appointed to oversee Stanford's assets.
We see a tack that Antigue could take here. In the post immediately above we see that the U.S. State Department would really like to see Antigua execute a few money laudering prosecutions, i.e., get with the program. Why not start here? If Stanford was engaged in the wholesale fraud as alleged, then he engaged in money laudering. Surely the island of Guiana was one of its fruits. Prosecute ... No, skip that. Just accuse the island of having engaged in a crime, then declare it forfeited. All in the best tradtions of Anglo-American jurisprudence, such as it stands today. If that is not showing solidarity with the U.S. government we don't know what is.
A stone's throw from the all-inclusive Caribbean beach resorts of Antigua, the coral-fringed island of Guiana is a haven of untouched tranquility. With a single derelict farm, the place is home to rare deer, turtle grass, mangrove and the endangered West Indian whistling duck.
But Guiana is in the vortex of a Caribbean political and financial storm over the sprawling business empire of Sir Allen Stanford, the billionaire banking entrepreneur and cricket impresario who faces U.S. allegations of an $8 billion fraud.
For years, Stanford has been lobbying for a multimillion-dollar project to build a luxury resort, a marina, a golf course and restaurants on Guiana, which at 5 square miles is Antigua's largest offshore island. But the Antiguan government only learned that he already owned the place by reading U.S. legal papers filed in court last Friday (February 27).
His ownership, through an obscure company registered in British Virgin Islands, prompted a furor and a snap cabinet meeting today as Antigua's prime minister, Baldwin Spencer, moved to seize Stanford's land. A government official in Antigua's capital, St John's, said: "Our main aim is to ensure that the lands are returned to Antigua."
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Stanford with taking money under false pretences from thousands of American investors and siphoning it into offshore entities away from regulatory eyes. The U.S. justice department is investigating claims that his Stanford International Bank presided over a vast Ponzi scheme.
The size of Stanford's influence over Antigua is only gradually becoming clear. Through a network of banks, investment companies and hospitality establishments, Stanford is the country's second largest employer, behind the government. But his ownership of Guiana has struck a particularly sensitive chord.
It is home to Antigua's national animal -- the European fallow deer -- and is one of 22 islands in Antigua's North Sound, several of which have been developed.
Construction on Guiana has been approved, rejected, approved and delayed by a succession of governments and has prompted street marches by unhappy Antiguans. It is bitterly opposed by environmentalists. "These islands have very dedicated mangrove habitats with all sorts of coral reefs," said Eli Fuller, owner of an eco-tourism company, Antigua Adventures. "People in Antigua generally do not want it developed."
Advocates of development say Guiana could provide much-needed jobs for Antiguans. But the issue complicates a potential fight over Stanford's assets between the Antiguan government and a receiver appointed by the U.S. courts.
Stanford Charges Could Derail $1 Billion Antigua Project
Allen Stanford's involvement in the affairs of Antigua caused its share of divisions among the island nation's inhabitants and politicians. According to one of the environmentally-oriented opponents to Stanford's proposal to develop Guiana Island into "a playground for the ultra-rich," Stanford was hoping to obtain approval for the development when his allies were reelected into power. Now it is doubtful the project can proceed in any case, according to the same source. We find the whole history of Guiana and the project are a morbidly interesting case study in power politics.
The tranquil, reef-fringed isle off Antigua's north coast sustains mangroves, deer and a rare duck species -- along with ambitions for one of the Caribbean's biggest development projects.
But the U.S. investigation into Texas billionaire Allen Stanford and his Antiguan-based bank could deal a fatal blow to the estimated $1 billion plan that has dangled near death several times since surfacing in 1998. Stanford, a 58-year-old financier and sports tycoon with a knighthood bestowed by the tiny Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, faces fraud charges centered on $8 billion managed by his Antiguan affiliate, Stanford International Bank Ltd.
The probe casts into uncertainty his investments and projects stretching from Texas to Latin America and the Caribbean, including a long-sought bid to turn ecologically sensitive Guiana Island into a playground for the ultra-rich.
Guiana is Antigua's largest offshore island and one of the most pristine and ecologically important tracts of land in a country already bestowed with some of the world's finest beaches. At 8 sqare kilometers (5 square miles), it is almost 2% of the nation.
"Stanford had a number of projects that he has been trying to get through the regulatory process, and that was clearly the biggest," Winston Derrick, publisher of the island's Daily Observer newspaper, said in an interview. "He has been trying to get a commitment out of the government to do this project." Home to the endangered West Indian Whistling duck, the island of cactus, thorn bush, mangrove and rocks has a colorful, if chequered, history.
Until 1997, its only inhabitants were a Welsh couple -- Taffy and Bonnie Bufton, who lived off rainwater filtered through rocks, a flock of sheep and fallow deer for about 30 years, rebuffing the government's offer of $500,000 to sell the land. The isolation ended when Taffy Bufton shot and wounded the brother of then-Prime Minister Lester Bird in a land dispute in December 1997. They were promptly removed by the government, clearing the way for development.
Bird sold the land a year later to Malaysian entrepreneur Tan Kay Hock for about $5 million to build an ambitious "Asian Village" of luxury Asian-style hotels, a casino, marinas, a golf course, a shopping center and a conference facility. But the 1998 Asian financial crisis intervened. Tan only produced about $1 million and failed to develop the land, Antiguan officials say.
Bird turned to his close ally, Antigua's most famous Texan, who agreed to transform the island into a luxury resort region studded with multimillion dollar homes, a mega-yacht marina, an 18-hole golf course and exclusive restaurants. But he did not get far. Bird's Antigua Labor Party lost power in 2004 and the United Progressive Party (UPP) swept elections with a manifesto that included opposition to the Guiana Island Development Project.
Within a year, the UPP shifted gears, giving a green light to Stanford to buy the land for around $20 million, saying the economic benefits -- including nearly 2,000 jobs over the first three years -- justified the switch. The agreement, involving transferring the deed from Tan, did not last long. The brash American soon ran afoul of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer in a series of missteps in 2006 and 2007 that began with a visit to the leader's hometown and chief political constituency, Gray's Farm -- a poor, crime-infested area.
Joined by an opposition politician, Stanford held a news conference expressing shock at the area's poverty and proposed using his own money to spruce it up. Antigua's prime minister accused Stanford of meddling in Antiguan politics, blasting the American as "haughty, arrogant and obnoxious." The green light to develop Guiana Island, he said, had turned red.
A later apology from Stanford failed to mend fences.
After 20 years in Antigua where he acquired citizenship, Stanford appeared to have lost the ear of the government and moved his primary home to St Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and put in place plans for a regional headquarters there. Before the U.S. charges, most believed Stanford was biding time ahead of general elections scheduled for March 12. A win by Stanford's old political allies, the Antigua Labour Party, was widely expected to revive his plans for Guiana Island.
That was before ... the US Securities and Exchange Commission charged Stanford, two colleagues and three of his companies with "massive, ongoing fraud." Some Antiguans now question whether the project would go forward without Stanford's financial and political muscle.
"Absolutely not," said Eli Fuller, who runs eco-tourism company Adventure Antigua and has led opposition to the project for years. "Before the charges, the project was on hold pending the outcome of the election in March. But given what has happened, that is all changing."
HOW TO THINK WHAT NOBODY ELSE THINKS
The idea of "thinking outside the box," or "lateral thinking," a term invented by Edward de Bono, has been around a while now. It has worked its way into the general culture. As with many innovative approaches, thinking outside the box is easier said than done. We at W.I.L. can attest to this, as probably can the majority of our clients and readers: Try talking to your average fellow citizen about radically downsizing the government ... or about reconsidering their religious beliefs. Before one can change one's mind one must be willing to change one's mind.
Even if one has escaped from being stuck with "the way things have always been done," actually coming up with truly creative ideas is a challenge. Here are some interesting case histories of people who did just that. Books by de Bono, and many others, are available to help stimulate the process.
How can you think of things that no-one else thinks of? The answer is by deliberately taking a different approach to the issue from everyone else. There are dominant ideas in every field. The brilliant thinker purposefully challenges those dominant ideas in order to think innovatively.
Albert Szent-Gyorgy, who discovered Vitamin C, said, "Genius is seeing what everyone else sees and thinking what no-one else has thought." If you can identify the standard viewpoint then survey the situation from a different viewpoint you have an excellent chance of gaining a new insight. When Jonas Salk was asked how he invented the vaccine for polio he replied, "I imagined myself as a cancer cell and tried to sense what it would be like."
Ford Motor Corporation asked Edward de Bono, who originated the concept of lateral thinking, for some advice on how they could clearly differentiate themselves from their many competitors in car manufacturing. De Bono gave them a very innovative idea. Ford had approached the problem of competing from the point of view of a car manufacturer and asked the question, "How can we make our cars more attractive to consumers?" De Bono approached the problem from another direction and asked the question, "How can we make the whole driving experience better for Ford customers?" His advice was that Ford should buy up car parks in all the major city centers and make them available for Ford cars only. His remarkable idea was too radical for Ford who saw themselves as an automobile manufacturer with no interest in the car parks business.
In 1954 the British Government held an auction for commercial television regions. Many companies were interested in bidding for the franchises. They analyzed the demographics of the regions to identify which were the wealthiest regions that would produce the most advertising revenues. The result was that they focused on London and the South-East of England. Sydney Bernstein was Managing Director of a small chain of cinemas, Granada Cinemas. He wanted to compete in the auction. He told his people, "Don't look for the richest region, look for the wettest. Find me the region with highest rainfall." This turned out to be the North-West of England. Granada bid for this and won it. Bernstein's idea was that it was better to have a region where it rained so much that people stayed in and watched TV. He succeeded by approaching the problem from a different point of view. He thought what no one else thought.
The spectators at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968 were amazed to see a young athlete perform a high jump with his back to the bar. Until then, every high jumper "rolled" over the bar with his or her face down. Dick Fosbury, an American, introduced an entirely new approach, the "flop," leaping over with his back close to the bar and his face up. Fosbury was ranked 48th in the world in 1967; yet in 1968 he caused a sensation when he won the Olympic Gold Medal with his unprecedented technique and a leap of 2.24 meters [apx. 7 feet 4 1/4 inches]. What he introduced was literally a leap of the imagination -- and it revolutionized high jumping. Nowadays all the top jumpers use his method. He thought what no one else thought and conceived a new method.
How can you force ourselves to take a different view of a situation?
Instead of looking at the scene from your view try looking at it from the perspective of a customer, a product, a supplier, a child, an alien, a lunatic, a comedian, a dictator, an anarchist [no problem there!], an architect, Salvador Dali, Leonardo da Vinci and so on. Challenge all the common assumptions. If everyone else is looking for the richest region, look for the wettest. If everyone else is facing the bar then turn your back on it.
The great geniuses did not take the traditional view and develop existing ideas. They took an entirely different view and transformed society. Picasso took a different view of painting; he saw cubes, shapes and impressions instead of accurate images. Einstein imagined a new approach to physics; a world where time and space were relative. Darwin conceived a different view of the origin of species; he saw how they might have evolved rather than been created. Each of them looked at the world in a new way. In similar fashion Jeff Bezos took a different view of book retailing with Amazon.com, Stelios took a new perspective on flying with easyJet, Swatch transformed our view of watches and IKEA changed the way we buy furniture. If we can come at problems from entirely new directions then we can think of things that conventional thinkers miss. It gives us unlimited possibilities for innovation.
U.S. Tax Filers Pay Average 13.8% Tax Rate
Top 1% of earners pay 40% of total income tax.
Interesting statistics from the IRS's latest Statistics of Income Bulletin. The U.S. income tax schedule is highly progressive, let there be no doubt -- which is totally distinct from the issue of whether that income itself was deserved, i.e., earned through voluntary exchange rather than through political connections or other artificial government largesse.
The average tax rate for taxable returns filed with the IRS in 2006 was 13.8%, an increase of approximately 0.2% from 2005, according to the winter 2009 issue of the Statistics of Income Bulletin.
The Bulletin, released on March 3, features information on 138.4 million individual income tax returns filed for tax year 2006. Of those returns, about 93 million, or 67%, were taxable, which means that the taxpayer reported total income tax greater than zero. The total number of taxable returns in tax year 2006 was up 2.4% from 2005. ...
Taxpayers in the top 1% of adjusted gross income reported adjusted gross income (AGI) of at least $388,806 in tax year 2006. This group accounted for 22.1% of all AGI for 2006, up 0.9% from the prior year. This group also accounted for 39.9% of the total income tax reported, an increase from 39.4% in 2005.
Taxpayers in the top 5% of AGI reported AGI of at least $153,542. This group accounted for 36.7% of AGI and 60.1% of total income tax.
Unemployment Bring Changes to Laws in Costa Rica
Labor laws in Latin Countries are notoriously in favor of the worker, but in tough economic times, these laws can hurt the employee. For example it is illegal to cut a worker's hours, even if your business is having a tough time, both in Panama and in Costa Rica. Your only option is to fire the employee and hire someone else with a contract for less hours to begin with. With unemployment taking its toll on our neighbor to the west, they are enacting a law that allows more flexibility for the employer in order to save jobs. Panama may want to implement such an option before things become acute.
Excerpt from Costa Rica pages:
If there was any doubt before, recently released information reporting 15,000 lost jobs in Costa Rica during the month of December 2008 seems to prove that the world economic crisis has indeed hit this Central American nation. The report was released by the Costa Rican Union of Private Business Chambers and Associations (Uccaep), while the Labor Ministry said that 5,000 Costa Ricans presented themselves in January of this year to ask about their severance pay. The ministry said an average of 250 recently unemployed Costa Ricans arrived daily.
In an attempt to combat further negative effects of the crisis, Uccaep said it will be presenting a bill to congress in the next couple of days called the "Law of Employment Protection in Moments of Crisis."
The law would present temporary amendments to the Employment Code to allow business owners to take the necessary precautions to avoid firing their personnel. Such precautions would include reducing work hours by one third, and offering an advance on vacation time. Both of these would allow the company to slightly decrease individual salaries, and therefore employ more people at the same price. Companies would also be able to lower executive salaries.
It is safer than California, Michigan, New York City and Nevada.
The cost of insuring against a credit default by Greece, Thailand, Slovakia or Israel is less than insuring against default by one of the above U.S. political subdivisions. Most interesting, credit default swap traders assess the cumulative 5-year probability of a U.S. Treasury default at 8%. Far from "riskless."
Greece, Thailand and Israel have had a recent run of political unrest and shaky governments. In Wall Street's eyes, however, they are safer than California, Michigan, New York City and Nevada. That is judging by the premium for credit default swaps (CDS) -- essentially insurance against bond defaults. Investors are nervous about projections showing state budgets in the red by $84 billion in the next fiscal year. The CDS premium for California, at $319,000 a year to insure $10 million in debt, remains high.
Uncle Sam is rock solid by contrast. Insurance on U.S. debt has soared from $10,000 a year ago, putting the cumulative 5-year probability of a Treasury default at 8% (although that translates into CDS payments of only 5% because, traders expect, creditors will get some money back). Only a few nations have cheaper insurance.
New Philippine Beer Tax Would Double Prices
Does anyone else think the total tax take from been sales might actually go down if this proposal is implemented?
A proposal from the Department of Finance in the Philippines to unify tax rates for alcohol and tobacco could double the price of beer, it has been revealed.
It is projected that taxes on imported beer products could increase by around 13%, while tax on economy beer brands would increase by an equivalent 123%. It is thought that the retail price of beer would rise by as much as 41%.
Asia Brewery Inc, has criticized the government for imposing taxes which could threaten its livelihood during the current economic downturn.
The brewery's Chief Financial Officer, Jose Gabriel Olives, has expressed concern over the measure, arguing that the tax could be detrimental to the growth and survival of the industry. According to Mr. Olives, thousands of jobs could be at risk.
Madoff-Run Fund Transparent from Outset, Insists UBS
UBS has already taken heavy criticism for acting as custodian for some of the Bernard Madoff non-funds, e.g., from France. Now Swiss financial regulator CSSF has said UBS mislead investors in the fund. UBS says investors should have read all the boilerplate.
UBS has released a statement objecting to a report published by the Swiss financial regulator, CSSF, on February 25, which argues that UBS misled investors into investing in Bernard Madoff's funds, and should reimburse investors. UBS, although regretful of the scandal, has stated that investors were fully aware of what was involved when hedging their capital in the Luxalpha fund.
The statement from the Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier (CSSF) claims that UBS misled those investing into the Luxalpha fund, suggesting that investors were not told that Luxalpha was in fact a feeder fund to Madoff's hedge fund, and have claimed therefore that UBS should be held liable.
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