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SANTA LUCIA, HONDURAS: YOU WILL LIKE THE VIEW
Carter Clews, like clockwork every month, introduces one interesting possibility for living in Latin America after another – this time a town on Honduras’s Caribbean coast. Before getting into details about the town he feels compelled to dispell the myth perpetrated by the U.S. government that Honduras is somehow a dangerous place to visit – “a lie so pernicious and venally calculated that it literally buckles the knees of those who know better.” Typically disgusting details – when the U.S. federal government is involved one cannot be surprised – below. To the credit of the Honduran people they neither buckled under to the U.S.’s attempted blackmail, nor lost their cool in the ensuing disruptive times.
Clews has more than a little skin in the game this round: He plans to buy property in Honduras. Santa Lucia is located just 15 minutes north of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras – “actually one of the more enticing Latin American cities I have visited.” Characterizing Santa Lucia, Clews resorts to the poetry from Antônio Carlos Jobim’s classic bossa nova composition “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars.” More prosaically, Moon Handbooks describes Santa Lucia as “a growing destination for Hondurans and a few expatriates looking for a quiet, cool, escape.”
OK ... add it to the candidate list.
Quiet nights of quiet stars
Quiet chords from my guitar
Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams
Quiet walls by quiet streams
And a window looking on the mountains and the sea
This month, I want to take you with me to an obscure outpost of serenity called Santa Lucia, Honduras. It is a picturesque village on the country’s verdant east coast. I intend to live there someday. But, more about that later.
First, I am going to start off this edition of Clews’ Views with an important disclaimer – and I am deadly serious about this. So, let me warn you up front that anyone who harbors even the slightest inclination that the people of Latin America are incapable of choosing their own leaders and running their own affairs ought to stop reading right now.
Here the disclaimer: I believe that since June 28th of this year, the independent and sovereign Republic of Honduras has endured the most vicious, sustained, and unjustified assault from a foreign government the world has witnessed since the days when the Soviet Union subjugated the Captive Nations.
That assault came from the government of the United States. It was orchestrated by U.S. President Barack Obama, working hand in hand with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. And the purpose of the assault was to reduce Honduras to “Banana Republic” status by violating the Constitution of Honduras in order to reinstall a Marxist despot.
Now, for anyone who thinks that statement is “anti-American,” let me simply say that you have the wrong end of the stick. Nobody is more pro-American than I am – having proudly served at the very highest levels of the U.S. government. And nothing is more antithetical to all that America is, or once aspired to be, than for an American President to violate the sovereignty and Constitution of another country in order to foist a despotic regime on a free people.
Why do I say all of this – and why do I think that it is vitally important that it be said now? Because this column, Clews’ Views, is about destinations. It is about places I think you may not only want to visit, but, perhaps, even deign to live. And Honduras is high – very high, in fact, on that list.
Yet, when I googled “Santa Lucia, Honduras,” the exquisitely beautiful village I intend to write about this month, here is one of the first items that came up:
“From the U.S. State Department: ‘The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the current uncertain political and security situation in Honduras, and recommends that American citizens exercise caution when traveling to Honduras, while deferring all non-essential travel to the capital city of Tegucigalpa until further notice.’”
Sounds foreboding, doesn’t it? Sounds like, maybe, Honduras is a country you had best walk a wide circle around; a country where you are in mortal danger if you even get within shooting distance of the untamed border, doesn’t it?
And, that, frankly, is a prevarication (to put it politely). It is a malevolent distortion perpetrated by the very people – the U.S. Department of State – that caused the so-called “uncertain political and security situation” it now somberly, soberly warns Americans against.
It is a lie that has cost the government of that uniquely friendly and peaceful country tens of millions of dollars in tourism. It is a lie that has destroyed industries and cost innocent workers their jobs. It is a lie so pernicious and venally calculated that it literally buckles the knees of those who know better – and know that the government that spawned it knows better, too.
The facts are quite simple, and they speak for themselves: On June 28, 2009, the government of Honduras – following the precise mandates of its own Constitution – impeached Manuel Zelaya. With his own party in the majority, the Honduran Congress voted that he had violated constitutional safeguards against dictatorial takeovers. And the Supreme Court of the land ordered his immediate removal, again, as mandated by the country’s Constitution.
Case closed – until Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez decided that they would go to whatever extremes were necessary to override the rule of law in order to reinstall Zelaya in power. There then followed the sustained assault on Honduran sovereignty alluded to above.
When polls indicated that 70 percent of the Honduran people supported the impeachment, their voices were ignored. When interim President Roberto Micheletti – selected by the Honduran Congress according to law – announced that elections would proceed as scheduled the following November, he was attacked and belittled by the U.S. State Department. And the Obama Administration then cut off all aid to the tiny, independent republic.
Fortunately, the proud people of Honduras did not cave in to U.S. dictates. They maintained their sovereignty. They remained independent. They preserved their democracy. And, perhaps most importantly to those who would visit, or live in, that beautiful, bountiful country; they refused to be torn asunder and resort to violence – despite all of the U.S. State Department’s provocations. And, despite the outright lies.
Readers need to know that I am unequivocally adamant about this for two immutable reasons: First, I hate bullies. And second, I love Honduras.
That is why – putting my money where my mouth is – I am now buying property just outside the lovely village of Santa Lucia, Honduras. And it is why I intend to move there within the next three to five years. I intend to raise a family there. And I intend to meld into the community as yet another proudly independent, freedom-loving Honduran.
Let me tell you a little about Santa Lucia, in hopes that, perhaps, you will join me in this peaceful, pristine, untrammeled corner of paradise found. Santa Lucia is located just 15 minutes north of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa (so, if you fall for the U.S. State Department’s propaganda, you will not have far to “defer” all of your “nonessential travel”).
“Teguc” (pronounced Tay-goose), as the indigenous population calls the capital city, is actually one of the more enticing Latin American cities I have visited. But in so saying, I have to remind readers that I am city-bred, having been raised on the hard-scrabble streets of Baltimore – and loving every minute of it.
Teguc has all of the verve and excitement we city types crave. It has the fancy department stores and open-air markets, the fine restaurants and hole-in-the-wall eateries, and the requisite cultural events (sports for me, theatre for the more refined).
And once you have had your fill of the big city and bright lights, you can escape back out to the profound serenity of Santa Lucia. Here you will find ... well, quite simply ... the Honduran equivalent of Corcovada.
Those familiar with the lilting lyrics of one of Brazilian songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim’s more enchanting sambas will know in an instance what I mean. For those who are not, here, in poetic splendor, is all you need to know about the tiny town of Santa Lucia:
Quiet nights of quiet stars
Quiet chords from my guitar
Floating on the silence that surrounds us
Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams
Quiet walls by quiet streams
And a window looking on the mountains and the sea
This is where I want to be
Here with you close to me
Until the final flicker of life’s embers
I who was lost and lonely
Believing life was only
A bitter tragic joke
Have found with you, the meaning of existence
Lest you think I am being a bit too sentimental (or, perhaps, even a little gloopy), here’s how the entirely dispassionate Moon Handbooks describes Santa Lucia:
“A picturesque colonial village of red tile roofs and cobblestone streets perched on a hillside 13 kilometers above Tegucigalpa, Santa Lucia is a growing destination for Hondurans and a few expatriates looking for a quiet, cool, escape ...” The guidebook Open Roads writes of Santa Lucia as “a town 5,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by pine forests” with “splendid mountain views and quaint colonial architecture.”
And what about the “quiet walls and quiet streams”? For this writer, one of the more memorable aspects of my personal sojourn to Santa Lucia was the ancient stone wall that runs along the main thoroughfare. For some reason, it lent an air of solidity and serenity to the village, a timeless reminder of its enduring appeal.
And directly across the cobblestone street from the serpentine wall is the “quiet stream” – or in this case, the quiet lake – of Santa Lucia. Here, children wade, ducks swim, anglers seek their evening meal, and lovers row out onto the horizon under the moonlit sky. Follow the cobblestone street up the hill from the heart of the town and you will come to the soul of the town: its stately eighteenth century whitewashed church filled with colorful paintings, icons, and statues – including that of the town’s patron saint. It also houses an intricately carved statue of Christ, given to the town by sixteenth century Spanish King Felipe II.
My visit to Santa Lucia occurred on a Sunday, so I was privileged to attend a service in the cool, spacious church. And it was there that an incident occurred which, for some reason, profoundly affected me – not because of its magnitude, but because of how mundane it was; not because of its majesty, but because of how perfectly it portrayed the simple beauty of inner peace.
It emerged not from the priestly obeisance to ornate icons and historic statues, but from the easy air of the congregation. Friendly and relaxed, alternately reverential and festive, they took me back to the days of my childhood when church was not merely a place you had to go, but a place you wanted to be. To a time when all with whom you fellowshipped were family.
Then, as I sat absorbed in the magic of the moment, a dog – that’s right: a mere mongrel, a cur – wandered up the aisle, stared up at the priest, and ambled back out, tail held high, totally undisturbed. And, I realized that this was a place of such serenity of the soul, such unassuming acceptance of life’s little anomalies, that I one day had to return. And I wanted to stay.
For, you see, Santa Lucia, Honduras, is not only a “window looking out on the mountains and the sea;” it is a window looking out on life – and liking the view. The U.S. State Department aside, I think you will, too.
I wish you all a very happy New Year and see you in 2010.
HOW TO BUDGET YOUR NEW LIFE OVERSEAS
In addition to housing, here are the other expenses to factor into your budget.
An immensely useful article from Live and Invest Overseas. Of course anyone considering moving to a new place will look at real estate or rental costs first. But then what? Costs such as transportation, utilities, food and entertainment can vary tremendously from place to place. Some fall in the realm of discretionary, some are unavoidable ... with others there is some but not total wiggle room.
For example, “We are spending as much for electricity living in Panama (where we run the air conditioning day and night) ...” But that is Panama City. Alternatively, “The truly budget-conscious should think about places like ... Santa Fe, Panama, where the weather is spring-like 12 months a year and you can get by most of the time without either heat or air conditioning.”
And, “In most of the world, though, if you are not careful, your monthly phone bill can be a shock, even the most costly item in your entire budget (including housing and transportation).” But now there is Skype (and competitors), so maybe you can avoid that fate. How about internet access? “[F]or reliable service in the interior of the country, at the beach or in the mountains, you will have to invest in satellite Internet. This would cost you about US$500 in hardware and set-up and then US$200 a month or more.
You get the idea. One should not assume anything. Discover the facts.
How much will it cost you to live in the overseas Shangri-la that is calling your name?
The bulk of any budget is given over to housing – rent or a mortgage, if you have one – so start here. Are you going to rent or to buy? I strongly recommend that you rent at least at first, for 6 to 12 months, to give yourself a chance to try the place on for size before committing. However, if you do eventually decide to invest in a home of your own, recognize that property ownership comes with carrying costs. As a homeowner, you will have maintenance and repair costs, insurance, in some places property taxes, maybe grounds-keeping, etc. As a renter, you have none of these liabilities, which is why renting long term can make a lot of sense for the retiree abroad.
The other key housing consideration has to do with where in a country you want to settle. In Panama, for example, your rent could be US$1,500 a month, for a two-bedroom apartment in a nice building in Panama City with a doorman and a pool ... or it could be US$200 a month, if you choose instead to settle in a little house near the beach in Las Tablas, on the coast of the Azuero Peninsula, a beautiful, welcoming, more remote, and therefore much more affordable region of this country. (Las Tablas is the featured destination in the premier issue of my new Panama Letter, and Editor Rebecca Tyre’s report includes a fully detailed budget for living in this charming little beach town.)
In addition to housing, here are the other expenses to factor into your budget:
Condo/Building/Home Owner’s Association (HOA) Fee
The monthly condo or HOA fee is your contribution to the costs of maintaining and managing the apartment building or private development community where you are living. It covers your share of shared expenses, including security, grounds-keeping, internal roads, the swimming pool and other amenities, sometimes a concierge in an apartment building in Paris or Buenos Aires, for example. You may incur this expense as an owner or a renter. It is called different things in different places. In Paris, for example, the building fee is the “syndic” fee, and it covers the costs of maintaining the courtyard, the lobby, the elevator, the building façade, etc.; in Panama, it is referred to as the “PH” fee (that is, the propiedad horizontal), and, again, it is to pay for the cost of maintaining and improving public areas, the elevators, and, important in Panama City, the building’s “Area Social” (or Social Area), which typically includes a pool, a game room, sometimes a gym, a children’s play area, and a bar-b-que.
You will not be liable for any in Ireland or Croatia, for example, nor in Buenos Aires (though you will pay annual tax on property you own elsewhere in Argentina). That is to say, not every country imposes property tax, and, for those that do, the cost to you will likely be less, perhaps considerably less than you may be paying for property tax now, either because the percentage is less, the value of the real estate is less, or both. If you intend only to rent, of course, property tax will not be an issue for you anywhere.
Will you need a car where you are thinking of relocating? If so, this likely will be your greatest expense after housing. In some places, in fact, the cost of owning a vehicle can be greater than the cost of your rent. In the friendly mountain town of Santa Fe, Panama, for example, you could rent a two-bedroom house for US$200 a month. However, unless you are comfortable with the idea of using your own two feet or a taxi to get around town and the national bus service to travel the rest of the country, you will need to invest in a vehicle. In a remote mountain region like this one, where roads can flood during the rainy season, maintaining your vehicle will not be easy. It might seem as though you are repairing tires and replacing shock absorbers almost as often as you are filling the gas tank.
If you are not up for the expense or the hassle of car ownership, consider less remote options and cities with good public transportation. Living without a car in many of the places I introduce you to in these pages, the cost of transportation could go from being one of your biggest expenses to a negligible line item in your monthly budget.
Often used for cooking and typically a negligible expense – a few dollars a month.
We are spending as much for electricity living in Panama (where we run the air conditioning day and night) as we did for gas and electricity in Paris (where we needed both heat and air conditioning, depending on the season). The truly budget-conscious should think about places like Cuenca, Ecuador, and Santa Fe, Panama, where the weather is spring-like 12 months a year and you can get by most of the time without either heat or air conditioning.
This cost varies greatly country to country and region to region. France is a big winner when it comes to telephone expense. You can buy a phone package from Orange, for example, for about US$50 a month that includes unlimited free calling to the United States and Canada, much of Latin America and the Caribbean, and all Europe.
In most of the world, though, if you are not careful, your monthly phone bill can be a shock, even the most costly item in your entire budget (including housing and transportation). Over the years, we have had phone bills of more than US$1,000 a month.
Finally, Lief put his foot down. Fortunately, this did not mean we could no longer stay in touch with family back in the States, because, by this time, Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) technology had advanced to the point where it is possible to use this strategy almost anywhere in the world. It is by far the most cost-efficient approach. Many providers now offer VoIP service, but I recommend Skype, which I have found to be the most reliable. The only limitation is your Internet connection. If you have a good one, your Skype service will allow you to chat at will with friends and business associates anywhere in the world. You can call from Skype to a telephone for a few cents per minute, and Skype-to-Skype calls are free. Set your kids and grandkids up with Skype accounts (if they do not already have them!), and you can speak with them whenever you want for as long as you like.
For local calls, maybe all you need is a pay-as-you-go cell phone. These are easier to obtain than a phone with a contract with a cell phone service provider. In Panama, a US$10 calling card for my pay-as-you-go cell phone lasts me all month.
The cost of Internet can be a significant part of your budget if you need uninterrupted access 24/7 and are not relocating to a city. In Panama City, for example, you can have wireless Internet for as little as US$30 or US$40 a month. But for reliable service in the interior of the country, at the beach or in the mountains, you will have to invest in satellite Internet. This would cost you about US$500 in hardware and set-up and then US$200 a month or more.
Again, this is a significant budget issue only if you are living outside the cities and developed regions of most countries. In a main city, such as Panama City, for example, basic cable costs about US$20 a month.
This can be one of the big benefits of living overseas. You can arrange full-time help around the house for as little as US$150 in Nicaragua or Uruguay. The going rate for a good maid who will also cook for you and do your laundry in Panama City is US$300 a month, half as much in the interior of the country. A gardener can cost as little as US$100 a month (in Uruguay, for example). In Panama, you will spend US$300 a month for a full-time driver/Guy Friday.
Groceries are a hugely variable expense anywhere. Your monthly food spending depends on how you want to live and eat. Here in Panama, a couple could spend less than US$300 a month on groceries. On that budget, you could eat well, but you would be eating like the locals.
Or you could shop at the Riba Smith super-store every week and load your cart with imported cheeses, specialty hams, wine, and prepared foods, in which case a couple’s monthly grocery spend could be as much as, say, US$600.
Grocery costs also vary according to region. In Paris, we lived in the 7th arrondissement, in the historic heart of the city. We discovered that prices in the grocery stores in our neighborhood were sometimes 25% more than prices for the same items in grocery stores in the 15th arrondissement, for example, a more working-class district.
This is another big variable that you control. Sticking with Panama as an example, you could budget US$100 a month for entertainment. That would allow you two or three dinners out at modestly priced restaurants (Panama City boasts many good ones) and a couple of nights out at the cinema each month (a ticket for a first-run movie in English costs as little as US$3, depending on the day of the week). On the other hand, you could spend US$100 on a single dinner for two at Market, Panama City’s best steakhouse. You get the idea.
Miscellaneous (dry cleaning, haircuts, household bits and pieces, etc.)
In the places I recommend to you in these dispatches, these little everyday expenses can cost a fraction what they are costing you now. In Panama City, my husband has his hair cut at the barbershop down the street for US$3 (and, no, I am not embarrassed to be seen with him). I have mine trimmed at the salon on the corner for US$7. Dry cleaning costs an average of US$1.25 per item (compared with US$12 per item in Paris, for example).
Travel (within your new country of residence and for visits home)
How often will you want to return home? Your biggest related expense will be airfare. Allow for it in your budget, as well as for in-country travel. You are taking a big step and making a big effort to relocate somewhere new and exotic. Once you are there, you will want to get out and see the place.
Now let’s get specific. What would your monthly budget look like in each of the world’s Top 10 Overseas Retirement Havens for 2010?
Watch this space. Detailed budgets for each and every one of the world’s best places to think about living in retirement as we approach New Year 2010 coming soon.
CHRISTMAS IN BELIZE
Belize Glad Tidings ... ‘Tis the Season, Beach Weather Notwithstanding
The Reverend Macarena Rose ongoingly contributes articles to Caribbean Property and Lifestyles about life in her beloved adopted home of Belize. Here is what life looks like there during Christmas season. “This is a land of exuberant festivals all year long. But none are more special and entered into more excitedly than those of the holiday season,” she reports. “It is not hard to stay home from the beach and start preparing for what is to come. After all, the glorious sun, sand, and surf are always there for us.”
Belize being a multi-cultural society, there is an extensive choice of events to attend and participate in, many of which are or take elements from the indigenous Mayans. Retaining the civilized custom from their British colonial days, Boxing Day is celebrated the day after Christmas. No rest for the weary, however, as “Once again, the streets and villages are filled with singing, dancing and drums.”
A wonderful time of year ...
Did you think that just because it is warm and humid here in Belize and we are playing happily on the beach in December that we do not get into the spirit ... and go all out to celebrate this very special time of year!
Or maybe you expected to hear that we are enjoying more snorkeling in pristine waters and are headed out to go kayaking because it is a perfect day for it – as usual!
This scenario, of course, does not include those of us at Rainforest Realty!! We are here in the office working hard every day to do our utmost to assist you and meet your needs!
However, December means celebration here in Belize ... just like it does in most places.
Come December, most everyone in Belize is enthusiastically preparing for the holidays. It is a wondrous time of joyous celebrations throughout the country. This is a land of exuberant festivals all year long. But none are more special and entered into more excitedly than those of the holiday season.
It is not hard to stay home from the beach and start preparing for what is to come. After all, the glorious sun, sand, and surf are always there for us. Belizeans can always partake of the fantastic sports and recreational offerings available year round. Or trek to the jungle and ponder mysterious pyramids.
But in December, we are just like you and your family. We are more than ready to hang around home and indulge in holiday preparations. Families, friends, neighborhoods and communities join together in the spirit of the season.
However, we do have more relaxed preparations. ... There are many multicultural traditions present in Belize’s celebration of the holidays. But music, dancing, preparation of food, and visiting among families and friends are universal and enjoyed by all.
And, oh yes, there is plenty of shopping, too!
We are busy shopping for the holidays just like you. But the attitude here is different in Belize.
We are busy shopping for the holidays just like you. But the attitude here is different. It is a pleasure to think of special treats and gifts for the family. The holiday shopping experience here is much less intense than in the U.S. Nor are we confronted by the endless, relentless advertising that begins in the fall in the U.S.
Here, we look forward to going with family and friends to see what we can find at the local markets. They are filled with endless baskets of enticing fruits and delicious foodstuffs to tempt us. There are whimsical, fanciful trinkets to catch our eye – and toys, artwork, hammocks, glassware, and all manner of gift items available for purchase.
We even like to get creative and make presents too. I love having the time and energy to do so – and consider that one of the perks of living here!
Less stress ... yes, there is less stress. ... I get emails from friends in the U.S. who got stressed to the max getting ready for Thanksgiving. Now, they cannot imagine how they are going to get everything done for Christmas. And cannot stand the kids’ endless lists and dread having the relatives arrive.
You will not find that angst in Belize. Here the Christmas holidays are about sharing and preparing together and welcoming family and friends. Sort of like it used to be in the United States before all the commercialization.
Holiday readiness may be a bit different here in Belize than elsewhere. In order to prepare for the endless visiting and get-togethers, homes get a thorough cleaning in mid-December and it is part of the holiday ritual to hang new curtains and marley (linoleum).
Of course, lots of pots are simmering on the stove getting ready for the fun! Ah – the cooking! Those exquisite aromas wafting from the kitchens of Belize come from traditional rice, beans and potato salad being prepared in huge quantities – but it does not stop there. Turkey, stuffing, and ham are enjoyed here just like in the United States. There is also plenty of white relleno (soup with pork-stuffed chicken and raisins), pebre (roasted pork and gravy), and tamales in abundance. It is really a superb blending of cultural foods.
You can even have a slice of black fruitcake! This is a lingering traditional dessert that reflects British heritage in Belize and wow is it yummy.
Stocking up to celebrate in this part of the world requires getting ready for a huge cycle of festivals and visitors – so this also requires stocking quantities rum at home. Belize has its own version of eggnog called rumpopo, and it is consumed across the country. Of course, cases of coca cola are stacked off the kitchen, and homemade wines are in plentiful supply too for when the guests arrive.
We here in Belize are ready, willing and able to celebrate peace on earth, good will toward man – and do we ever! You might even want to join in the festivities on a future visit!
Belize enjoys a laid back “live and let live” philosophy. That attitude truly thrives here. we are tolerant of one and other’s beliefs ...
Multicultural events abound in Belize. There is so much going on! Belize is a multicultural country and thus has many different customs and religions. There are more than 10 ethnic groups here in a population of approximately 250,000. Belize enjoys a laidback “live and let live” philosophy. That attitude truly thrives here.
We are tolerant of one another’s beliefs and thus the December holidays are a time for everyone to celebrate in the manner they choose. And everyone is welcome to join in and share in the celebrating. And borrow a tradition or two!
A cornucopia of religious and secular events and offerings to keep you busy every day and long into the night.
The result is a cornucopia of religious and secular events and offerings to keep you busy every day and long into the night. The always gracious, welcoming native Belizeans invite you most cordially to share the holidays with them, grab that renowned local beer, and make merry!
Good cheer throughout the land and the sense of joy here is palpable at all times of the year and most especially during the holiday season. Excitement and exuberance are contagious vibes wherever you wander in Belize in December. The spirit of Christmas permeates the atmosphere everywhere and settles over the land like a happy cloud.
There are weeks of delightful happenings with generous offerings of food, drink, dance, and music every time you turn around. And endless holiday toasts of good cheer and best wishes for your health.
What I also love about celebrating Christmas here is how intimate it feels.
It is like there is a true connection between people and communities and a great sharing of holiday spirit whatever one’s beliefs. It is as though you are wrapped in the love of so many and it feels so good!
Belizeans are busy decorating trees, hanging lights outside, preparing food, wrapping presents, exchanging cards ... just like people everywhere else. But the pace of the holidays here, just like life in general, is slower and less grinding than in the U.S. and includes lots of time for family and friends. All the frenetic hype and commercialism so rampant in the U.S. does not affect us. You will not be reading endless articles about holiday stress and burnout. We are too busy having fun with our friends and families!
Daily parades of children are one of my very favorite things here at Christmas time. I adore the daily parades of gaily dressed, happy children singing and dancing through the streets. The kids wend their way so delightfully and, of course, their doting parents and relatives are always close by and share in the fun.
And so does anyone else who wishes to participate. These parades are always so radiant and joyous! Even if you are tired and jaded, I guarantee you there is nothing more inspiring and uplifting to watch.
Is there anything more enchanting and appealing to your heart at this time of year than the eager, shining faces and singing voices of children? And the laughter and hilarious antics along the way too!
The Children’s bubbly enthusiasm and excited anticipation of Christmas fills hearts and inspires smiles all season long.
If you were here you too would revel in the general goodwill and I am willing to bet you would find yourself grinning and laughing a lot more – and singing and dancing right along with everyone else!
Visiting house to house is an important tradition in Belize during the holidays. In Gales Point near where I live, there is a week long ceremony that starts before Christmas and lasts until after Christmas. Groups gather and start at one house with the local drummers drumming their drums. The happy procession includes dancing villagers and kids running about, and little ones carried on adults’ shoulders.
There are plenty of food and homemade wines to be enjoyed before setting out. Then the groups go from house to house all day and night, visiting each family throughout the village to share the music and good cheer. These visits last 15 minutes or so. After all the visiting is done, the groups gather out on the peninsula where the village ends and the sambia dancing begins. Always, there is wonderful, continuous drumming. Everyone gathers about the fire circle and partakes of lots more homemade wine and food – and a good time is had by all.
You are in for a special treat if you consider spending your holiday season in Belize. It is guaranteed to amaze, please, and thrill you. Being in Belize for Christmas will renew your spirit as you bask in the genuine warmth and welcome to be had here.
Of course, since this is a multi-cultural society, you will have an extensive and interesting choice of events to attend and participate in. There are an endless array of masses, processions, dances, dinners, festivals to enjoy – along with a wonderful camaraderie to be found in every village and town.
You can catch up on your sleep later ... after the holidays, here in Belize! Multicultural festivities abound and everyone looks forward to the Deer Dance being performed during the holidays. This is an annual tradition the Mayans share with us at Christmas. The ancient ceremony in which a deer hunt is reenacted is intended to show us the interrelationship of man and nature.
Like many ceremonies here, it combines elements from Christian and Mayan practices. It basically involves a deer chase and then the readying of a pole with plenty of grease (soap and lard). The challenge after the ritual hunt is completed is for villagers to climb this pole.
It is interesting to note that pole climbing was well known in ancient cultures and was a common event at festivals in the Middle Ages. The ritual of pole climbing can still be found in some villages in France and here in Belize.
Jonkunu dancers present a special masquerade on Christmas day which also involves the relationship between man and deer ...
The Garifuna are another cultural entity here. Their Jonkunu dancers present a special masquerade on Christmas Day which also involves the relationship between man and deer and symbolizes the relationship of man and the animal world.
A well-known tradition here is that of Las Posadas. This involves a 10-day procession to remind us of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay. Statues of them are carried house to house by villagers.
The statues “ask” for food and shelter. Each home welcomes them and this is followed by many prayers by all the participants. Joseph and Mary make their way to each home and the rituals are repeated at each stop. On Christmas Eve, the statues are taken to church for the Dance of the Pastores. This is a ceremony that re-enacts the shepherds bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. That is followed by the Misa de Gallo (midnight mass).
Boxing Day is another tradition absorbed from the British that takes place the day after Christmas, December 26. Once again, the streets and villages are filled with singing, dancing and drums.
And come New Year’s Eve Belizeans are eager and excited to celebrate and welcome the New Year. The visiting and celebrating continue nonstop and it is popular to waltz and foxtrot at grand balls.
December is also the season of the winter solstice, a special marking of the calendar. There is something wonderfully primal in welcoming it here in Belize where nature is held in great regard and you are surrounded by so much of nature’s beauty. And where you get goose bumps thinking of the Mayans standing in the same area for the same reason!
Just picture our solstice celebrations! We are not huddled indoors. Hey – you too can be out on the beach dancing, chanting, and pounding drums along with the rest of us.
Drumming is a cultural happening here and it is fun. No one is going to stare at you – so indulge yourself and go for it. You cannot go wrong drumming your respects to Mother Nature!
Belize is where you can come for vacation or to live or to celebrate the holidays and let your inner self out. You will never feel closer to the heavens and Mother Nature or to yourself and your fellow man.
It is all here – a wonderful mix of cultures and traditions that blend to create a very special, magical holiday season.
I wish you and your loved ones much peace, joy and happiness. And if the New Year includes a visit to Belize, drop by Rainforest Realty and say hello!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!
GUYANA REVISITED: A NATIVE SON RETURNS (PART 2)
Part 1 of this travelogue, written 15 years, ago was posted here. The article author recently returned to Guyana – a small South American country next to Venezuela – whereas the travelogue writer is an expatrioted Guyanan. The author is captivated by how little has changed in 15 years, as are visitors “who fall in love with the land of rivers, vast jungle wilderness and pristine rainforests.” Visitors who come, it is clear, are up for an adventure.
One cannot help but notice how the poverty and associated obstacles wear down the travelogue writer. Yet as his trip draws to a close he declares: “On my return from previous trips, I usually sink into a depressed state, but not this time. Now, the country is on the move forward. People are free to operate businesses, to be open, and be able to be critical of issues. Industries are developing. ... The mood of the people is on the ascent. Yet, there is so much to remedy in all facets of life.”
But: “How do you attract tourists with hard currency if there are disincentives to basic personal accommodations?” And finally: “Having said this, however, I venture to say that I will spend my future holidays in Guyana. My plans will be slightly different. The greater beauties of Guyana lie not so much on the populated coasts, but rather in the hinterland regions. A short vacation is really not enough. Guyana is blessed with a rich diversity of natural vacation spots.”
Guyana, formerly British Guiana, is a former British colony and is still part of the British Commonwealth. It achieved independence in 1966. More than 80% of Guyana is still covered by forests. Its rainforest is one of the largest unspoiled rainforests in South America, helped by the lack of accessibility of some parts. Guyana’s population is only 770,000, of which 90% reside on the narrow coastal strip. Its sparsely populated rain forest regions and substantial Amerindian population differentiate it from English-speaking Caribbean countries.
A friend of mine sent me this travelogue written by a fellow expatriated countryman almost 15 years ago. This travel dairy is captivating in many ways, primarily because the writer’s descriptions of various locales and the people (from almost 20 years ago) – none of which, to this day, have really changed. More than anything, Guyana is very much a country of un-change, there is nothing wildly progressive about it, and in that lays a fascination for many of us born there as well as visitors who fall in love with the land of rivers, vast jungle wilderness and pristine rainforests. The journey concludes with Part 2.
To Leguan – Place of My Youth
Despite a rather aching body, I aroused myself to visit the island of Leguan the next day. I was determined not to waste any of precious days of my vacation. Today would be my first encounter with the mini-bus excursion. ... I dreaded the prospect, but my options were limited. One thing that I immediately noted upon arrival, is that concerns about the mini-bus and public transportation must be addressed by the relevant authorities. The services rendered leave much to be desired.
At Parika, MV Malali, scheduled to ferry us to Leguan was delayed. Moored alongside it was the MV Lady Northcote which was loaded to capacity for the Bartica route. Passengers, vehicles, poultry, cattle, cargo of all description – produce, groceries, eggs, salt, sodas, gas cylinders, and vegetables. Young men loaded the vessels. They were puny men, getting by doing piecework. All of them were sweating, smelly, and busy – toiling diligently with the primary purpose of meeting the departure deadline.
The entire process appeared chaotic at first. Getting the trucks and cars on the boats requires skill and appropriate guidance. Deck hands directed the drivers without adequate care and precaution. Any one of a number of the crew gave directions, sometimes contrary to the other. This was surreal. A serious incident is waiting to happen ... then, who would be liable, and is there liability insurance?
The Malali carried a full complement of crew; yet the boat was filthy beyond what would be expected on a general-purpose vessel. Even the upper decks revealed that little attention was given to wholesome conditions. Two days before, on my trip to the Essequibo coast, a cow lay dead at the Parika stelling. Two days later, the dead cow was not removed. A few senior (?) crew men stood on the lower deck forming a group, doing nothing but frivolous chatting – all well-dressed and sporting dark glasses.
Is it apathy or depraved work ethic? In the meantime, hard-working peasants and jobbers continued to collide with one another, and dodge moving vehicles. There was too much dirt. There was flagrant disregard and neglect. And nobody seemed to care. These penetrating observations do not suggest indignity from the working crew and other staff. They merely draw attention to the status quo and to existing patterns of behavior. Certainly, the paying public deserves better, even though they are simple, country folks.
A meeting with a school friend was mutually gratifying and warm. He and I engaged in nostalgia. He filled me in with recent developments, and was most gracious in affording me his personal transport. By any standard, my friend was a well-to-do, and very successful businessman. After visiting my childhood hometown, Louisiana, and walking around the yard and house where I spent my boyhood years, I met a few relatives and acquaintances who still remained in my village.
Later, my buddy and I shared his lunch at his home at Maryville, a huge, well-kept, modern house by any measure. He proudly escorted me around his property, and displayed his resplendent jacuzzi. Lunch was simple (or complex), consisting of rice, “daal”, pumpkin, “bhagi”, “katahar” and “achar.” Today, being Thursday, no meat or hard drink was approved in the house as per their Hindu custom.
Later, through the courtesy of Tularam’s transport, I renewed friendship with an old buddy living at Enterprise. His name is Robert and he is a singularly exceptional personality. He is currently retired, having worked in education for many years. Now, he dons worn-out trousers and slippers which had seen better days. His jute bag hammock with holes is guardedly protected. On the ordinary side, his routine is milking his cows and managing his rice fields which he cultivates for joy and money.
Robert is an expert mandolin player, a talent that he never, but should have, exploited. His pet birds, numbering over ten, are his special preserve – they are worth more than just money. Robert treated me to a rarity, a homemade brew of “jamoon” wine: Both of these gentlemen were missing from my life for over thirty years, and it was really a pleasurable emotional connection.
During the PNC regime no impetus was directed to rice cultivation. In fact, the government of the day ruined the rice industry in their practiced and wanton manner. Thus, the economy of Leguan dropped to a bottomless pit. Rice cultivation eventually ceased, and with very little or no jobs locally, people, mostly young, migrated to the sugar estates and the city of Georgetown, and when possible to neighboring Suriname and Venezuela, or to Toronto and New York. There was abject disregard and inattention by the powers that reigned.
The inhabitants are simple country people. All they desired was the opportunity to make a living, albeit, paltry, and this was denied them. Leguan became rundown in all aspects. Quality of life in education, health, nutrition, clothing, shelter and entertainment dropped below anything in living memory. There was a time when Jagan was Premier that brought prosperity on account of increased rice production. I began a career in teaching at a government school then. Then, all government buildings blazed in excellent condition.
The Cottage Hospital boasted a full-time doctor and a complement of nurses and ancillary staff. The stelling used to be painted in bright colors, and never could it be said that it did not provide secure storage in its bond, unlike recent times. The present government, in an attempt to boost the local and general economy, is offering the basics to encourage rice production again. And so, rice production has been heightened once more. The stelling is partially repaired. For the first time, there is all-weather road up to a point. It is envisaged that completion throughout the country will be accomplished this year and probably also the inhabitants may enjoy the civilized benefits of electrification.
The next week or so found me centered in Georgetown, East Bank and East Coast. I attended to a few personal mandates. I engaged in brief informal contacts with Walter Matadial and Charles Kennard CCH, at their Kingston office of MARDS, and learned of their good work for the rice industry. I luxuriated in two baby boomer’s coming of age at their 50th celebration – the inimitable K. Rai and the well-known and popular Roopa.
These two events were resplendent. These occasions allowed for embraces with pals, acquaintances who were missing from one’s immediate locale. My most undisturbed sleep was a night I spent with Walter and Jean at their Soesdyke residence, mainly because of the coolness and the relative lack of mosquitoes. At a Fund Raising lunch held at the Pegasus and organized by the National Sports Council for outstanding but semi-indigent athletes, were several former colleagues, my invitation through the kind courtesy of the affable and frisky Shaik Baksh MP. I chatted with Patrick Mootoo, economist and once stalwart teacher in Leguan, and Dr. Kamrool Bacchus, a noted eye specialist.
The one-day cricket match at Bourda only brought nostalgia. “Xanda,” who shared many a drink while at UG, seemed (or pretended) not to know me. I did not particularly enjoy this day, being alone for the most part, except for the couple of hours spent in the nearby botanical gardens, photographing the scenery. St. Stanislaus College was the meeting-place for a discussion on the Iwokrama International Rain Forest Programme, important but poorly attended. Why? On two occasions, the University of Guyana attracted me to its campus at Turkeyen.
I always entertain good and fond memories of this campus; and I am saddened when I observed the sad state of affairs, meager (or lack of) supply of basic materials, such as books, journals, laboratory equipment and supplies, especially in the Faculties of Natural Sciences, Agriculture, Health Sciences and Medicine. It is a crying shame to see this once bastion of higher learning transformed to a substandard “empty” institution. Much has to be done to elevate it anew to acceptable international standards. The premium on education is always high, but the payoffs warrant it.
On a planned trip, we left Georgetown for the Corentyne early November. It was about 6 a.m. when we commenced with the hope of avoiding heavy traffic and boarding an early boat. The drive was prepossessing, the day still cool, but with the morning sun stealthily approaching the meridian. As usual, traffic manifested the same patterns of hazards apparent to an individual not yet accustomed to Guyana roadway routines.
The driver was always on the alert for pedestrians, bicyclists, cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and horse-drawn carts. In some areas, rice farmers and coconut growers were occupying large sections of the road, drying their padi and copra. With the oncoming minibuses racing at excessive speeds, there was always the potential for dangerous outcomes.
For many days now, I have been traveling and, by now, I was becoming tired in body, but not in spirit. Because of the prolonged semi-stationary posture in the car, I yearned for Rosignol. The Mahaica market area was busy as always. Because of my tired condition, the remaining drive appeared not as interesting except until we arrived at West Coast Bush Lot where enlivened activities met our gaze. We barely missed our anticipated scheduled boat.
Being on a holiday, I did not care much about this. Relief came to my aching body as I satiated my appetite with fish-and-bread and cold drinks amply vended at the stelling.
Water, and particularly the river, has a modifying and palliative effect on my cerebral faculties. I roamed the decks of the MV Torani, looking in all directions. Towards the mouth of the Berbice River, there was vast openness with a huge structure unknown to me. Crab Island showed its dark greenery.
The stelling at New Amsterdam looked old and insignificant from a far distance. The tide was out, and the mudflats on the Rosignol side exposed a backdrop, colored brownish-green, this being the thriving inter-tidal algae coating the surface of the mud. As was my wont, my camera was at work, capturing essential details of the trip. The passengers minded their business, engaged in polite conversations, sometimes renewing acquaintances.
A car carried a wedding group, Hindu by mode of dress; the young groom sweltering in his traditional wedding robe, displayed a demeanor of impassive composure and equanimity.
Time and neglect showed no mercy on the town of New Amsterdam. Rundown occupancies and unpainted buildings projected an overbearing dismal picture, made more pronounced on this quiet Sunday. As I passed Berbice High School, the premier secondary school in Berbice, I remembered the principal and felt sure that he would welcome a few gallons of paint.
But, it must be more than just paint; it must also be the will of the people – to find simple solutions for simple problems, and not to depend wholly on government or external agencies. I lament on the decrepit condition of this illustrious school.
While we passed through the Corentyne coast, we stopped at various districts. My fellow traveler and ever-working and tireless friend, Shaik, attended to his chores in his usual business-like manner, which was the central objective of the trip. His duties took us as far as Crabwood Creek. He inspected the seed padi smuggled from Suriname, and discussed issues informally with Custom Officials at Springlands.
I observed, quietly and without comment, his modus operandi, efficiently attaining his objectives, even on a Sunday! I noticed also the poor working conditions of the Customs Officers, performing their duties under severe adverse settings. My overall impression of the Corentyne was that, compared to other places, the sub-county is very clean, healthy and prosperous.
Our trip was rather hurried; we had to “make the boat.” Late lunch at Skeldon slowed the pace of our movement. We were joined by Minister Michael Shree Chand and Dr. Ramroop who were, it seemed to me, tangentially part of the trip. Both men espoused traits of modesty and affability, and I was pleased to engage their company.
Kadir (and Lita) and I met only briefly because he was on his way to a concert at the Line Path School. Despite the brief encounter, I expected at least a spark of sort, meeting after more than twenty years. His expression was blank, his countenance weary, and his bearing that of someone broken in spirit. Kadir is a gentleman of great stature and impeccable character. I hope my impressions were improperly interpreted.
We later paused at a “watering hole” at Rosehall, meeting with people of rather outgoing characteristics. Among the company of Sony Ramjohn and Dr. Lakeram Tulsie, and partaking of beverages, salutary to reviving the body as well as enabling the central nervous system to higher planes, I was transmogrified from a state of partial indolence to one of physical wellness. These individuals engaged in very little trivia. Discussions on politics, economics and people’s welfare gave me further understanding of the complexities of local issues.
We made the boat; but, by this time, the strain of hectic travel opened my yearning for home, rest and relaxation. ... However, my fellow traveler, Bobby, arrested further exertion to our exhausted bodies and spirits, thanks to his very accommodating wife who surprised us with welcome refreshing drinks and a lavish dinner. It is indeed wonderful to realize how suitable time and place can modify physical and mental states.
My vacation time was coming to a close. The remaining few days would be spent tidying my belongings and ticking off from my list of “things to do.” I searched the book stores in vain for a copy of The West on Trial by Cheddi B. Jagan, a request of my daughter. My disappointment was assuaged after two friends sacrificed their copies. Last minute shopping is never good.
It did not leave enough time to buy a few select pieces of jewelry. The best T-shirts were obtained from the Regent Street Mana T store. Visits to relatives and friends occupied my remaining days, and late night socializing deprived me of pre-travel rest. Towards the end, you always wish that there were more time!
On my return from precious trips, I usually sink into a depressed state, but not this time. now, the country is on the move forward.
My experiences on this trip have sculpted indelible memories on my mind. On my return from previous trips, I usually sink into a depressed state, but not this time. Now, the country is on the move forward. People are free to operate businesses, to be open, and be able to be critical of issues. Industries are developing. Production in agriculture is rising. The mood of the people is on the ascent. Yet, there is so much to remedy in all facets of life.
Schools and institutions of higher learning must be rebuilt. Transportation, with proper sanitary facilities, must be brought to par with what is required for basic decency. Garbage disposal in the big cities remains an eyesore; and here, it should also become mandatory for business to do their share or pay deserving and appropriate penalties.
Adequate water supply and electricity are perennial problems. Excuses cannot continue to allay one’s disgust. Industries depend on these. How does one conduct laboratory science classes without water and electricity? You do not – yet you give a passing grade? How do you attract tourists with hard currency if there are disincentives to basic personal accommodations?
Having said this, however, I venture to say that I will spend my future holidays in Guyana. My plans will be slightly different. The greater beauties of Guyana lie not so much on the populated coasts, but rather in the hinterland regions. A short vacation is really not enough. Guyana is blessed with a rich diversity of natural vacation spots.
However, the numerous waterways and impassable mountainous interior make travel, not impossible, but time-consuming. Therefore, it is necessary to prioritize planned routes. My memory goes back to Bartica and neighboring Kaow Island, Fort Island, the Bartica-Potaro road to Issano and Madhia, the Rupununi Savannah, the Essequibo Lakes of Capoey, Mainstay, Tapacoma and Ituribisci, North West District and Shell Beach, and the indomitable Kaieteur Falls. These are but a few natural regions where eco-tourism can be experienced at its best, and second to none.
Lots of the impressions noted here are rather subjective, and are based on what were observed almost 15 years ago. For new visitors and tourists, travel precautions are obviously necessary. Make some initial contact locally, and if possible have someone meet you at the airport. Discuss tropical and geographical conditions with experienced people prior to booking flights. For Guyanese visiting, you need to venture back to your homeland with an open mind, rediscover different settings, and appreciate that you were ...
Born in the Land of the Mighty Roraima,
Land of the Great Rivers, far stretching Seas.
So, like the Mountain, the Streams and the Rivers,
Great, wide and deep, is the Land to be seen.
Onward, upward, may we ever go,
Day by day in Strength and Beauty grow
Till at length, we, each of us may show
What Guyana Sons and Daughters can be. ...
WHAT EXACTLY IS AN INTERNATIONAL TRUST?
Asset protection is basically about organizing your assets in advance of a risk or litigation – or even threats of litigation.
This is a very good and readable introduction to the use of international legal structures for asset protection by former judge and retired commercial litigation attorney, now asset protection specialist, David Tanzer. Although we are not comfortable with his seemingly exclusive focus on foreign trusts here, the benefits he ascribes to foreign trusts are available from most other international legal structures as well.
Our own report on the subject, Introduction to International Asset Protection, covers many of the same points – with a nonexclusive focus on any one legal structure – but it is always good to get other perspectives and viewpoints. That applies to the W.I.L. team as much as anyone.
With this month’s column we shift gears and ask why there has been a significant increase during the past decade in the use of International Trusts, whether for purposes of protecting assets or for diversifying investments globally.
This month’s column first answers the question: What exactly is an International Trust? First, let’s start with defining what asset protection is about. It is basically about organizing your assets in advance of a risk or litigation – or even threats of litigation – to protect your hard earned assets against the various classes of risk.
The objective is for you to obtain a result that is superior to having no protection, or holding assets in your name “naked.” It is important to understand that a “hallmark” of asset protection planning is not based upon hiding or “secreting” assets, although some are erroneously compelled to believe otherwise. And while it is true that an International Trust creates a greater level of privacy and confidentiality in handling your personal affairs and assets, it should never be a means or reason to evade or avoid taxes. And it should never be used as a tool for fraudulent conveyances.
Importantly, asset protection planning generally integrates different planning tools into one planning structure creating a “synergy” beyond what you could otherwise accomplish with independent planning techniques. Therefore, an International Trust has many different purposes, one of which is asset protection.
But what actually is an “International Trust” you ask?
An International Trust is simply a trust established and registered in a country outside of the boundaries of where you, the settler, reside. Be it U.S., Australia, Britain, New Zealand, Hong Kong, or wherever – everywhere else is offshore. For tax purposes, these trusts are generally “tax neutral.” This means the settling of your trust neither creates tax benefits, nor results in a negative tax consequence. ... This is an important concept frequently overlooked by inexperienced planners.
Asset protection planning ultimately stands or falls in a courtroom.
And since asset protection planning ultimately stands or falls in a courtroom, the starting point for all asset protection should be with an experienced planner seasoned with years of courtroom and litigation experience. You should always start with the end result in mind, and then integrate other planning tools and techniques into the structure…. the ultimate objective should drive the means.
Moreover, it is true today that an asset protection trust can be created and registered in various U.S. states. This has been driven by some states looking to increase their revenue base.
While these handful of U.S. states have created asset protection provisions through legislation trying to compete with offshore jurisdictions, there is little benefit to availing yourself to these U.S. domestic planning tools when far superior international planning techniques are available.
And whether you live in the U.S. or Australia or Britain or elsewhere, the following factors still apply. Let’s look at some of the reasons why:
International Trusts are Superior to U.S. Settled Trusts
For a variety of reasons, an International Trust offers far greater asset protection as compared to creating or settling a trust at home. Just a few of those reasons are noted below. First, the trust laws of some foreign jurisdictions permit a greater degree of benefit and control over the assets held within a trust than what is permissible at home. For example, a problem for a U.S. citizen with U.S. trust law is that it severely restricts the benefit and control of assets through a trust.
Even worse for U.S. citizens, as a general rule, U.S. courts bound to U.S. trust law have long refused to protect settler’s assets from creditors when the trusts are settled in the U.S. To the contrary, many jurisdictions outside of the U.S. permit self-settled trusts to protect your assets from different risks and classes of claims.
U.S. trust law generally provides that if assets are within reach of the settler, then they are also within reach of the settler’s creditor, whether present, subsequent or future potential creditors.
U.S. trust law generally provides that if assets are within reach of the settler, then they are also within reach of the settler’s creditor, whether present, subsequent or future potential creditors. This means that a U.S. settled trust created when there are no fraudulent conveyance issues may still be attacked, even many years after you settle a trust ... not a good result if you are serious about protecting your assets and maintaining benefits and control over the assets.
To the contrary, with an International Trust the level of benefit and control created for asset protection governed by the trust laws of a foreign jurisdiction are generally significantly superior to the rights and powers retained by settler of a U.S. settled trust.
And for U.S. citizens, important benefits to settling an International Trust outside of the U.S. are more favorable and flexible spendthrift provisions. Simply stated, a self-settled international spendthrift trust receives superior recognition under the trust laws of many offshore jurisdictions.
A U.S. settled trust may be as much a target for litigation as a settler going “naked” without a trust, since there are always creative litigation strategies local litigation attorneys can implement to try and circumvent a U.S. settled trust. But to the contrary, an International Trust is less likely than a U.S. settled trust to be such a magnet for local litigation threats.
The objective for all individuals – regardless of what country they reside in – is to create an international planning structure outside of their home country.
The objective for all individuals – regardless of what country they reside in – is to create an international planning structure outside of their home country. Due to distance, jurisdictional and other International Trust law protective provisions, local judgments and court orders are generally not recognized by the foreign court. As a result, an International Trust will often act as a deterrent to even aggressive litigants and their legal counsel.
Therefore, another major advantage of an International Trust over a domestic settled trust is just how far – in both geographical distance and litigation costs – a creditor is willing to go in the course of pursuing your trust assets.
Further, when you consider the psychological deterrent of a litigant and plaintiff’s attorneys dealing with foreign court systems, the cost of pursuing litigation overseas, the added uncertainty of prevailing in a claim against you elsewhere, and many other legal and practical hurdles created through the use of an International Trust, they all add up to be formidable barriers to even the most threatening of litigants.
One more hurdle includes a higher burden of proof to establish fraudulent intent when the International Trust was first created. And the hurdle is even more difficult by establishing a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof, instead of the much lower standard of merely “by a preponderance of the evidence.” This is more than theoretical when played out in the courtroom.
Many offshore jurisdictions provide a very short period of time after you transfer assets into an International Trust to challenge your transfers into the trust.
The above are huge obstacles for opposing litigants to overcome when attempting to attack your assets. If a creditor’s case is marginal or they are unable to satisfy the higher standard of proof, then the creditor may be discouraged from even filing a lawsuit in the first place. Moreover, in the U.S. some fraudulent transfer laws permit challenging transfers considered fraudulent for an unlimited duration ... meaning many years after a U.S. trust was settled it can still be attacked. To the contrary, many offshore jurisdictions provide a very short period of time after you transfer assets into an International Trust to challenge your transfers into the trust.
Considering that your solvency might be challenged after creating an International Trust, a question remains as to how much time must pass before a creditor is barred from challenging your solvency. As a practical matter, and is frequently the case, an offshore jurisdiction’s statute of limitations may have already expired by the time the creditor seeks to enforce a claim against you and the International Trust.
What is more, there are substantial costs and fees to an opponent that might challenge your asset protection plan offshore. Just exactly how much money is a plaintiff prepared to spend, particularly when lawyer’s contingency fees are generally illegal? The high costs and fees alone, coupled with the unknown elements involved with a foreign legal system, generally encourages an opponent to reach a conclusion early on that litigating against you is not worth it after all. Think of an International Trust as a good insurance policy for protecting your assets.
In asset protection-strong foreign jurisdictions, remedies such as punitive and/or treble damages are generally not allowed. Discovery process abuses are not permitted.
Moreover, in asset protection-strong foreign jurisdictions, remedies such as punitive and/or treble damages are generally not allowed. This severely restricts threats of plaintiff tort claims against your assets. And as you are probably already aware, the litigation “discovery” process in the U.S. is very broad, burdensome and costly when defending even the most frivolous of cases. Litigants are often entitled to obtain from you an overwhelming amount of documentation during the course of discovery, otherwise known as a “fishing expedition.”
These discovery abuses are not permitted in most foreign jurisdictions favorable to asset protection and ultimately create additional obstacles to a litigation opponent. The asset protective trust laws of many foreign jurisdictions are generally far more protective than U.S. trust law. One of the well-known leaders in asset protection legislation is the Cook Islands.
Two other big disadvantages of settling a trust in the U.S. for asset protection purposes are the “full faith and credit” laws and “supremacy clause” issues. Basically these are laws that force one state to respect the laws of another state, or question the controlling law when more than one law applies. These are common issues when trusts and assets and/or parties are located within different U.S. states.
Foreign jurisdictions courts generally do not recognize full faith and credit issues as in the U.S., and supremacy clause issues will typically not arise because the trust is beyond the jurisdiction of United States law.
About the best thing that can be said about the U.S. states that have created and attempt to compete against offshore jurisdictions, is that they have added to the credibility of the asset protection planning process that began in earnest in the early 1990s.
How do you use an International Trust for everyday purposes?
There are a number of good past articles for free on our site. This is a good starting point to help you in the learning process of working with an International Trust.
How you go about creating your personal asset protection structure and integrating assets into the trust is an important part of the planning process. The new, second edition book How to Legally Protect Your Assets located at our site introduces you to the basics of this planning process and provides actual case scenarios demonstrating how results can be achieved ... in case you are interested in learning more.
When establishing an international trust it is also essential that estate planning be incorporated and integrated into your planning goals. This is always part of the planning process.
And if you are considering a move to another country, an International Trust for pre-migration planning can be an excellent tool to minimize tax burdens in your newly-adopted homeland. While global investment diversification was discussed in earlier newsletters, as a reminder, the International Trust is a good tool for reaching this objective. This and more is covered in greater detail in the book Offshore Living & Investing – also located at our site.
Planning goals will vary. As noted above, your objectives may include protecting your assets from any number of litigation threats and risks that can arise to separate you from your money.
Still other goals focus on issues arising during your lifetime or for retirement purposes. And planning goals often focus on issues following death. Integrating many different types of planning objectives into an International Trust structure is ultimately about protecting and preserving your assets today, tomorrow and into the future.
Is International Planning the Answer?
But what is international planning all about?
For some it is about asset protection and wealth preservation ... but there is much, much more. It is also about integrated estate planning. And it is about saving for your retirement. And it is about opening doors to international investing, foreign currencies, and global diversification. And it is about pre-migration planning for those looking to live part time – or full time – outside of the US and looking to keep assets and income away from a new taxing jurisdiction. And for a select few, it is about planning ahead to give up US citizenship and leaving American burdens behind.
It is one or two of the above for some folks, and for others it is several of the above.
For those interested in asset protection, there is nothing else of importance. When I first started doing work in the international asset protection arena almost twenty years ago, you could count those of us performing domestic and international planning on one hand … and likely have a couple of fingers left over. During the 1990s international asset protection evolved considerably, and over the past few years it seems like everyone and their brother has hung out a shingle offering services in international asset protection.
As a former litigation attorney and judge I witnessed how fortunes were won and lost quickly in courtrooms.
As a former litigation attorney and judge I witnessed how fortunes were won and lost quickly in courtrooms. How can someone selling a “one-size-fits-all” trust package or an estate planner offer years of litigation experience to your planning? They cannot, and a certain percentage of all planning will someday need to withstand challenges of different natures.
Asset protection designed and implemented with an eye towards future challenges – including litigation – from the start is essential. I repeat: asset protection designed and implemented with an eye towards future challenges – including litigation – from the start is essential.
But there is both a life side and a death side of protecting assets.
Integrated estate planning is also an important component of the planning process to preserve assets. Looking to minimize estate taxes, provide for a surviving spouse or children, keeping assets from a re-marriage – or second marriage children – are only a few of the objectives when integrating estate planning into the structure. A surviving spouse or child’s trust inside an International Trust is an excellent way to control assets from the grave.
And integrating pour-over wills into the trust, durable powers of attorney’s for health care and financial purposes, and dieing declarations to avoid being kept alive artificially, are all an important part of the planning process. Furthermore, saving for retirement through an International Trust can provide security and confidence for what are supposed to be the rewarding years of our lives. Failing to do so means dependence on an already overburdened government provided pay-as-you-go health care system. Creating a separate nest egg in case things “go to hell” can provide you peace of mind if – or when – all else fails.
Better yet, many have discovered how quickly safer global investment opportunities become available. Owning higher yielding saving deposits in different currencies in safer offshore banks can be found. However, Americans are only now discovering that 96% of the world’s population will not deal with U.S. citizens, sometimes for no other reason than due to the draconian SEC and IRS regulations they must satisfy when dealing with American investors. This effectively cuts offs 75% of the world’s investment products to many U.S. citizens.
But the yoke of U.S. citizenship can be removed without leaving home by combining domestic planning with offshore structures within an International Trust to open the doors to greater opportunities and quality asset protection. Offshore living and investing from the comfort of home can be very beneficial.
We disagree with Mr. Tanzer that “the yoke of U.S. citizenship can be removed without leaving home ...” The pull of the yoke can be lightened, but to release it you have to expatriate and give up your citizenship. U.S. citizenship stinks. Get over it, and figure out what to do next.
And many are surprised to find high yields in extremely safe AA or better banks with government guaranteed depositor insurance of $1 million or more. These safer jurisdictions offer much better returns – even on cash deposits – and can be yours, too, if you organize your planning correctly.
Some outward looking Americans look to retire and live outside of the U.S. part time, or sometimes longer. Pre-migration planning can avoid the tax traps of a newly adopted second home or homeland. When taking the correct steps in advance you can also avoid issues of double taxation, or worse. Many learned the hard way that investing in an offshore mutual fund is a tax trap to avoid.
The American Dream has been replaced by the Global Dream for many.
Finally, for those select few who have finally said “enough is enough” with the over-burdened, faltering U.S. system, the option of giving up U.S. citizenship is the answer. With the American Exit Tax now firmly law in the U.S., important planning steps can be taken with international planning to create an opportunity for a better lifestyle elsewhere.
The American Dream has been replaced by the Global Dream for many. Yes, the world is changing. And you too must change or go the way of the dinosaur. If you wait until the last minute as everyone rushes to the exit, it is likely already too late. In the meantime, there are still ways to protect assets in a changing world.
Are you following the crowd? Or thinking for you?
Just because an opinion is widely held does not mean it is factually correct. If history is any guide (and it usually is) the view of the majority of mankind is more likely to be foolish than sensible. Think herd instinct.
Has everyone else already convinced themselves how bad things are – and will likely become – and therefore creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom? I mean, are we all chicken-little’s? If everyone is thinking alike, is anyone really thinking?
You be the judge.
Many have already stepped up to take personal responsibility to create a better world for themselves and their family.
Until next time ...
INTERNATIONAL BROKERS AND SECOND PASSPORTS
A U.S. citizen who wants to move his money out of U.S. banks is finding it almost impossible these days to find a foreign bank willing to work with him.
More and more foreign financial institutions are refusing to accept U.S. citizens as customers. In some cases they are closing the accounts of existing U.S. customers. Dealing with the compliance requirements foisted on them by the U.S. government is too much of a pain ... ultimately it is costly, and makes servicing a small U.S. customer a loss-generating proposition. So bye bye.
Simon Black posits second citizenship as a way back into the good graces of foreign banks. He does not mention – his focus is elsewhere so we understand the omission – that a foreign legal entity such as an IBC can own a foreign financial account without being burdened by “the blue passport.” Not as convenient as Mr. Black is used to, we are sure, but it does the trick without having to go through the process of acquiring another passport – however good an idea that is.
It is true what they say about the Autobahn ... there really is no speed limit. I have been in the car all day with my close friend and business partner Matt, racing our BMW from Stuttgart to Monaco. Our goal is to reach Spain by the end of this week where we have some important meetings lined up on your behalf.
If everything goes as planned, I will be able to bring you some incredibly unique opportunities very soon ... and you will see what I am talking about in a moment.
To begin with, one of my missions on this trip to Europe is to investigate some new international brokerages. I have discussed Denmark-based Saxo Bank in the past, and I have had reasonably good experiences with them. Unlike many other financial institutions in Europe, they still open accounts for U.S. citizens, which is becoming quite unusual.
I have looked into two other brokerages so far on this trip ... and while I am confident in their financial stability and execution, they are unfortunately NOT for U.S. citizens.
The first is Luxembourg-based Internaxx, which is a joint venture between TD and BNP Paribas. Backed by roughly $50 billion in assets, Internaxx trades stocks, futures, and foreign currency from one account with reasonable commissions and instant execution.
The second is Cyprus-based FxPro; it is an online brokerage that, despite the name, trades a wide variety of products. Its bread-and-butter is currency transactions, for which the brokerage offers leverage up to 1:500. For example, with a $10,000 account, a customer can trade up to $5,000,000 in currency transactions.
Clearly this would be a tremendously risky move, but exercising a bit of leverage can multiply returns while avoiding significant downside. I use this technique frequently in my own trades.
FxPro’s currency transactions are also well-priced, with many spreads as tight as 0.5 pips with no commission, putting it among the lowest in the business.
In addition to currency transactions, FxPro also trades major U.S. equity CFDs, or “contracts for difference”. A CFD is a financial contract whereby an investor receives the gains and losses from the value of a security, without actually owning the security. For example, if the value of CocaCola stock increases by 10%, an investor who has acquired a Coke CFD will also realize a 10% gain.
CFDs are commonplace among foreign brokerages that want to provide customers with the benefit of U.S. stocks but without the unnecessary hassle of the U.S. government or financial compliance. CFDs are generally offered for the largest blue chip stocks with lots of 100 shares each.
Similar to equity CFDs, FxPro trades futures CFDs for the most popular commodities like crude oil and natural gas. Personally, I do not find CFDs very compelling as I would rather buy the underlying security if I decide to make an investment ... but for some people, particularly based on tax situation, CFDs can be an excellent investment option.
Most importantly, FxPro trades in the spot market for precious metals; you can buy gold and silver 24-hours a day during the work week, with a maximum leverage of 1:50. Again, this means that you can leverage a $10,000 account to purchasing power of $500,000, borrowing the remainder from the brokerage at ultra-low rates thanks to Comrade Bernanke.
FxPro has offices all over Europe, and the brokerage is regulated by the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission under the EU Markets and Financial Instruments Directive. It is also part of the “Investor Compensation Fund,” which is sort of a European version of the SIPC.
You can fund an account with a wire transfer, credit card, and even Paypal ... and opening an account is fairly simple; a short application and scanned copy of picture ID is required.
Again, though, neither Internaxx nor FxPro accepts U.S. clients anymore ... it has really become a black eye to carry around the blue passport. This is just one of the many, many reasons why you should consider second citizenship. In a way, it is the ultimate insurance policy, providing you a way to mitigate social, political, and economic risks.
Think about it – a U.S. citizen who wants to move his money out of quasi-government controlled U.S. banks is finding it almost impossible these days to find a foreign bank willing to work with him. Uncle Sam makes it too much of a hassle for them.
History is full of lessons that demonstrates that government is unequivocally fallible. The recent debt crisis in Dubai underscored this point further, particularly as it relates to finance. Having your entire security, livelihood, and future tied up under a single government is quite literally putting all of your eggs in one very frail basket.
There is nothing illegal about any of this. It is completely legal to have foreign accounts (as long as you report them). It is completely legal to obtain second citizenships. These are intelligent, sophisticated solutions that I would encourage everyone to consider ... and it is exactly for this reason that we are heading to Spain at a very high rate of speed.
Property prices are so below the average for a Mediterranean island we could not believe it, nice people, and a contingent of English speaking expats.
Unspoiled, friendly and affordable – is that too much to ask? We hoped not. We had been living in Burgundy for almost five years. Every year, the winter got longer, and the seaside farther away. So, we turned to the south – the Mediterranean and Sicily.
It was one place that neither I nor my husband had visited. Our online searches led us to the town of Cianciana in the province of Agrigento. This is a charming mountainside town at an elevation of about 390 meters. The most beautiful beach (Eraclea Minoa) is about a 30-minute drive, and on a clear day you can see the sea from the top of town, and from many a terrace.
Our first time on the island, we took a ferry from Genova to Palermo, and drove the small roads down to Cianciana. It was about 9.00 p.m. when we arrived, on a balmy September evening four years ago, and our entire vocabulary of Italian consisted of per favore and grazie. While we were pondering where the piazza might be, and marveling at the warmth, a woman sitting in front of her house said, “Good Evening! What are you looking for?” In English! This was a bit of a shock, but she pointed us up the hill to a clock tower and a cafe with a terrace that overlooks the town.
From the first, we were overwhelmed by the kindness of people here. We are learning Italian slowly through a free program offered by the Communa (Town Hall), and get to know more and more people each year. But why did we so easily run into someone who spoke English within minutes of our arrival? Well, this is southern Italy, and in this town alone, more than 3,000 people immigrated to England in the 1960s, as well as France, Australia, Germany and the U.S. Many kept their homes here, and return every summer for the Festa, and many have come back to retire or start businesses. (Yes, even in this economy, new small businesses are opening in Cianciana.)
Property? The prices are so below the average for a Mediterranean island, we could not believe it. There are many town houses available, and ready to move into for between $60,000 and $90,000. However, if you are happy to do some renovation work, you can find dozens of town properties for as low as 15,000 euro ($22,000). Of course, properties with land are more expensive – but we have a friend who recently purchased 11 acres, with 20 olive trees, fruit trees, and stunning mountain views toward the sea, just outside of town, with an existing ruin, and permission to build. He paid less than $90,000.
It is the people here that really make Cianciana special. Even within Sicily, Cianciana is known for its hospitality and welcome. Benvenuto!
Indigenous People Say “Listen to the Earth”
Adaptation that comes from retrieving information and communicating with the environment, so the environment would tell us what is happening.
The idea of wilderness is “an interesting concept; it is a Western concept. Our people have always lived and interacted in the environment,” said Illion Merculieff, an environmental activist from the Aleut community in the north-western U.S. state of Alaska.
The Aleuts have inhabited the islands and coastal areas of the Bering Sea, in the northern Pacific, for more than 10,000 years, having adapted to the extreme climate. “Adaptation is absolutely essential,” according to Merculieff, “but not adaptation as it is understood in the scientific community. This is adaptation that comes from retrieving information and communicating with the environment, so the environment would tell us what is happening.”
He explained that since he was a child he has communicated with the ocean, which has told him when there will be high tides and where the best places are for fishing. East of Alaska, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, lives Gerald Antoine, former Grand Chief of the Dehcho First Nations. “The word ‘wilderness’ is not in our vocabulary,” he said, “but the people are always talking about protecting the wilderness. For us it is natural, the land sustains us, and we need to be respectful, because nature provides us things.”
Merculieff and Antoine met in the south-eastern Mexican city of Mérida with other chiefs, leaders, advisers and members of the world’s indigenous communities, at a session of the Native Lands and Wilderness Council at the World Wilderness Congress, November 5-13.
Wilderness lands, which in many cases are indigenous territory, are faced with problems of all kinds. And the ways the challenges are dealt with reflect the unique identity of the peoples who inhabit them. ...
“The global community needs to return to its origins, to the earth, and in that way change its mentality,” said Brazilian Yawanawá chief Tashka Yawanawá. The rate at which the planet’s species are going extinct must be reduced by next year in order to meet the terms set by the international community in the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The world’s indigenous people are demanding recognition for the role that they can play in that effort. Julie Cajune, of the Flathead Nation and coordinator of the session in Mérida, said indigenous peoples should be the principal agents of conservation, but at the same time there must be mechanisms for decision-makers to hear and take into account their points of view.
Merculieff summarized this combination of spirituality and knowledge: “We have to know how to listen to our heart. ... The mind can lie, but the heart never lies.”
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