By Asma A. Adl
Islamic Post Staff Writer
Cuban President Raul Castro spoke at a meeting of Latin American leftist leaders in Venezuela recently stating that Havana is prepared to discuss any issue the new U.S. administration. “We’ve told the North American government, in private and in public, that we are prepared, wherever they want, to discuss everything —human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners– everything, everything, everything that they want to discuss,” as reported by CNN. Mr. Castro insists that the communist island nation be treated as an equal.
President Obama, during a press conference in Mexico City stated Washington is ready to “recast our relationship” with Cuba. The President also says that his decision to relax travel and remittances to Cuba are very significant and merit reciprocal steps by the island’s communist government; that the importance of the steps taken should not be overlooked, also stating that they are extraordinarily significant for Cubans and Cuban Americans alike. “I think what you saw was a good-faith effort, a show of good faith on the part of the United States that we want to recast our relationship [with Cuba],” he said, if Cuba is ready to change.
Mr. Obama does acknowledge that the debate will continue over the prohibition of U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba, also stating that “there is not much discussion of the ban on Cuban people traveling elsewhere, and the severe restrictions that they are under.”
President Obama says with understanding that “50 years of frozen relationships will not thaw overnight.”
(IP) –A series of events marking the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade took place at the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan. The Day of Remembrance was designated by the General Assembly in 2007 as the day to honor the millions of Africans violently removed from their homelands and cast into slavery. According to a UN statement it is estimated that “up to 28 million men, women and children were taken from Africa from the 16th to 19th centuries and shipped across the notorious Middle Passage of the Atlantic – mainly to colonies in North America, South America and the West Indies.”
Addressing the event, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the elevation this year of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States marks a milestone in the 400-year struggle of the descendants of African slaves for justice, assimilation and respect –although the reference would moreso apply to the First Lady Michelle Obama.
The secretary-general also highlighted the fact that contemporary forms of slavery continue to pollute the world. “It is essential that we speak out loud and clear against such abuses,” he stressed.
The UN issued a report entitled “Unfinished Business” in December 2008 calling for more effective enforcefment of anti-human trafficking laws. “Throughout the twentieth century, trafficking was rarely treated as a specific offence, but would instead be covered indirectly as part of more general injunctions dealing with issues such as prostitution or kidnapping,” the report says. However, over the last decade, many countries have introduced anti-trafficking legislation, making it easier, at least on paper to pursue successful prosecutions.
But the report goes on to say “there have been few (if any) serious repercussions for even the most heinous, systematic abuses. This is largely a testament to widespread government involvement. Most historical abuses have taken place because of, rather than in spite of, official endeavours. This pervasive lack of accountability has continued to this day.”
“If slavery has been legally prohibited, but its more heinous characteristics have continued under a variety of different designations, or through numerous illicit activities, on what grounds can we say that slavery has effectively come to an end?” the report asks.
The report listed number of incidents it considers forms of modern day slavery: “(a) Debt bondage, that is to say, the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or of those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined; (b) Serfdom, that is to say, the condition or status of a tenant who is by law, custom or agreement bound to live and labour on land belonging to another person and to render some determinate service to such other person, whether for reward or not, and is not free to change his status; (c) Any institution or practice whereby: (i) A woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind to her parents, guardian, family or any other person or group; or (ii) The husband of a woman, his family, or his clan, has the right to transfer her to another person for value received or otherwise; or (iii) A woman on the death of her husband is liable to be inherited by another person; (d) Any institution or practice whereby a child or young person under the age of 18 years, is delivered by either or both of his natural parents or by his guardian to another person, whether for reward or not, with a view to the exploitation of the child or young person or of his labour.”
Ban Ki Moon also warned in December that, due to the global economic turmoil “poor people are likely to be driven further into poverty, making them more vulnerable to slavery-like practices.” Thailand, Brazil and Colombia are countries long considered the nations with the highest percentage of human trafficking with the Dominican Republic at similar levels of exploitation. Last month, the First Lady of the Dominican Republic, Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez, presented her office’s program to install community information and communication technology educational centers nationwide as part of a strategy to discourage women from falling prey to human trafficking, as reported by DR1.
Sources: UN, DR1. Researcher Noora Ahmad contributed to this report.
By Asma A. Adl
Islamic Post Staff Writer
Elementary schools’ populations are nearing Latino/Hispanic majority in nine of the nation’s largest cities according to a study by the Thomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California. The Thomas Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI) is a non-profit independent institution founded in 1985 that specializes in key issues affecting the Latino community; issues such as education, political participation, access to health care, economic well being, mass media as well as immigration. The institute is affiliated with the School of Policy Planning and Development at the University of Southern California in L.A. and also has an office at Columbia University in N.Y.
The percentage increase is high in large cities such as Los Angles and Dallas. Hispanic first graders are the highest, as quoted by TRPI; “three out of four first graders in the school district are Latino.” TRPI states as well, “In 2020 this demographic wave of Latino first graders will graduate high school and enter collegiate education or the labor market.” The president of TRPI and a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California, Harry Pachon, stated, “The future is now in terms of challenges presented to school districts across the nation by this influx of Latino youth.” He also stated that a large percentage of these students are U.S citizens by birth and paradoxically our public schools are in the position of teaching English to native born American children.
The Census Bureau states that Hispanics are also becoming more prevalent on college campuses as well. Students comprised 12% of full time college students (both graduate and undergraduate) in 2007, an increase from 10% in 2006, according to Bureau tables recently released. Hispanics also comprise 15% of the nation’s total population. In 2007 students in grades 1-12 made up 64% of the people three and older enrolled in school. The TRPI research compiled this spring by from Hispanic public school enrollment revealed the following information:
Columbia Professor Rodolfo de la Garza and vice president of research at the TRPI observed, “This is a profound demographic change, which provides a challenge for American education, just as European immigrants created a new foundation for New York through their ambition to excel and succeed. Latinos, if provided support and respect, will be in a position to strengthen our cities and our nation.”
Sources: US Census Bureau, Thomas Rivera Policy Institute.In the following major US states Hispanic enrollment rose significantly in the following grade (Gr.) levels:
1st Gr. 6th Gr. 12th Gr.
New York 40.6% 39.3% 34.9%
Los Angeles 74.5% 74.1% 65.1%
Chicago 45.1% 41.1% 35.2%
Houston 63.1% 59.8% 52.1%
Philadelphia 17.8% 18.2% 14.3%
Phoenix 43.9% 42.1% 37.0%
San Antonio 89.4% 89.8% 86.5%
San Diego 45.8% 45.4% 35.1%
Dallas 68.6% 65.3% 55.0%
San Jose 53.6% 49.3% 47.5%
(Data Sources: New York Dept. of Education Research and Policy Support Group; California Dept. of Education; Chicago Public School Office of Research, Evaluation, and Accountability; Texas Education Agency; Philadelphia School District Office of Accountability; Arizona Dept. of Education Research and Evaluation Section; Texas Education Agency.)
(IP) –The Dominican Republic Customs Director, Miguel Cocco, is urging actions to increase Dominican regional exports, saying the DR has been the big loser in regional trade, as reported by DR1. “For every US$10 the country exports to Central America, it imports US$90 from those countries. And for every US$18 exported to the Caribbean, Dominicans import US$82,” he was reported to have said at a trade export summit.
According to Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez, the island nation entered 2009 with a strong economy after small increases in remittances and tourist arrivals. “GDP grew 5.3 percent last year, slightly higher than the average for Latin America, he added. Remittances reached $3.1 billion, a 2.1 percent growth from 2007, while the number of tourist arrivals –nearly 4 million– grew 7 percent and generated $4.2 billion in revenue,” Dominican Today reported.
In commenting on the global crisis, Dominican Today reported the president as saying: “The Dominican Republic has been affected by the accumulation of adversities and calamities that extend across the planet as if it were a modern version of the Seven Plagues of Egypt.”
Dominican Today further reports the country is set to rely on an estimated $1.8 billion in loans from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and others to pay for projects related to education, health and energy, as noted by President Fernandez in his annual Independence Day address earlier this year.
Sources: DR1, Dominican Today
(IP) –Latin America received two visits from Obama administration officials in working in preparation for the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Fifth Summit of the Americas held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on April 17-19.
After US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s historic visit to Mexico City, Vice President Joe Biden made his tour of Latin America, meeting up with Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of Norway Jens Stoltenberg, and Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero along with center-left heads of state from Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina along with Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Mission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the OAS in Via Del Mar, Chile for the Progressive Governance conference. After the Chile forum, the Vice President headed to Costa Rica for a multilateral meeting attended by Guatemala’s President Alvaro Colom, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias, El Salvador’s President Tony Saca, El Salvador’s President- elect Mauricio Funes and Panama’s President Martin Torrijos. Second row left to right; Honduras’ Vice President Aristides Mejia, Belize’s Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Nicaragua’s Assistant Foreign Minister Manuel Coronel.
Before the visit, the Vice President published an editorial in eleven newspapers announcing the intent of the visit. The editorial, entitled “A New Day for Partnership in the Americas” mentioned the upcoming summit in Trinidad and Tobago, wherein President Barack Obama will “meet his colleagues from across the Western Hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas.” “In advance of that historic meeting,” Mr Biden writes, “I am traveling to Central and South America to consult with Latin American leaders gathered in Chile and Costa Rica about the Summit and the challenges faced by the people of the Americas.
“These meetings are an important first step toward a new day in relations and building partnerships with and among the countries and people of the Hemisphere.”
In addition to mentioning the necessity of joint fiscal policies in the wake of the economic crisis, Mr Biden also reiterated in his editorial statements made by Secretary Clinton on her visit to Mexico earlier in the month. In what could be the first admission of partial culpability by a US administration, Secretary Clinton told reporters: an “insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade” along the US-Mexican border. “Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians,” said Mrs Clinton, adding, “I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility.”
Vice President Biden wrote: “In the United States, we need to do more to reduce demand for illicit drugs and stem the flow of weapons and bulk cash south across our borders. We applaud Mexico’s courageous stand against violent drug cartels, as well as Colombia’s anti-drug efforts, but we know that they will have the side effect of pushing traffickers into Central America. We will build on the Meridá Initiative – started last year under President Bush – to assist Mexico and the Central American nations in a joint effort to confront that threat head-on. The drug trade is a problem we all share and one whose ultimate solution we must devise together.”
Mexican officials have long complained that the US government ignored how American demand for cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines fueled the trade. Some months ago, the Mexican President, Felipe Calderon alleged “drug trafficking in the United States [to be] fueled by the phenomenon of corruption on the part of the American authorities,” according to a PressTV report, which added American arms to have been used “in about 90 percent of the murders over drug trafficking, according to both US and Mexican officials.”
-Sources- State Dept, White House, Press TV
(IP) –At the recent Summit of the Americas, Caricom (Caribbean Community) Chairman, Prime Minister Dean Barrow of Belize, referred to financial services in the Caribbean as important “growth engines,” in response to the tax haven controversy that followed the G20 economic summit last month. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which claims to work “with its 30 member countries and with others to develop sound policy frameworks for the governance of the world economy,” issued a report at the conclusion of the G20 conference outlining the progress of traditional tax havens towards transparency. The move was agreed upon by all attendees. While four of the countries were slow to comply with new regulations being initiated by the OECD –which would include sanctions for those not in agreement– eventually all alleged tax havens, including those nations in the Caribbean and others which are not a part of the G20, were put on a grey list to be monitored, and all sides claimed victory.
The US Congress however, is going forward with a bill that seeks to prevent US tax dollars from hiding in foreign banks in the first place. The Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act introduces “new enforcement tools,” according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Carl Levin [Democrat-Michigan]. “They include new legal presumptions to overcome offshore secrecy barriers, special measures to combat persons who impede U.S. tax enforcement, treatment of offshore corporations as domestic corporations when controlled by U.S. persons, elimination of the offshore dividend tax loophole, greater disclosure of offshore transactions, and more,” Mr Levin announced in a statement.
The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Senator Levin, recently held two days of hearings and released a report that “broke through the wall of secrecy that normally surrounds banks located in tax haven jurisdictions.”
Regarding the tax haven investigation, Senator Levin seems to have started with Switzerland, but the investigation will not end there. The Subcommittee presented seven case histories of U.S. persons who had secretly stashed millions of dollars in accounts at LGT Bank, a private bank owned by the Liechtenstein royal family in Switzerland. “These case histories unfolded like spy novels, with secret meetings, hidden funds, shell corporations, and complex offshore transactions spanning the globe from the United States to Liechtenstein, Switzerland, the British Virgin Islands, Australia, and Hong Kong,” Levin states. He continues: “A former LGT employee, now in hiding for disclosing LGT client information, provided videotaped testimony during the hearing describing a long list of secrecy tricks and deceptive practices used by LGT to conceal client assets. They included using code names for LGT clients; requiring bankers to use outside pay phones to call clients to prevent those calls from being traced back to the bank; establishing offshore shell corporations which clients could use to route money into and out of their LGT accounts without incriminating wire transfers; and creating elaborate offshore structures involving foundations, trusts, and corporations to conceal client ownership of assets. In addition, four U.S. persons asserted their Fifth Amendment rights at the hearing and declined to answer questions about their LGT accounts.”
The Tax Justice Network, an international non-profit organization dedicated to fighting tax evasion, has estimated that wealthy individuals worldwide have stashed $11.5 trillion of their assets in offshore tax havens. Two experts, Joseph Guttentag and Professor Reuven Avi-Yonah, have estimated that U.S. individuals are using offshore tax schemes to avoid payment of $40 to $70 billion in taxes each year. Mr Levin is supported in his efforts by President Barack Obama, whose proposed budget is counting on the recovery of said billions of offshore tax dollars to assist in stabilizing the economy over time (Please see US government revenue chart on A6).
The US is becoming increasingly aggressive in the effort to shut down tax havens, and this even before the OECD agreements made after the G20 summit earlier this month. USA Today reported that the Swiss Bank UBS closed more than 14,000 accounts owned by US citizens following a court settlement over accusations it assisted its clients with tax evasion. Yet, the Swiss government has made it clear that by adopting the OECD Model Tax Convention, whereby Switzerland will henceforward share information “with other countries in individual cases where a specific and justified request has been made,” bank secrecy will not be put to rest. Pierre Mirabaud, chairman of the Swiss Bankers Association in Geneva accused the G20, of which Switzerland is not a member, of hypocrisy and hoped that Switzerland woud be treated as fairly as those tax havens which are territories of G20 nations, specifically Britain. Mr Mirabaud told the Bloomberg news agency: “I would only believe Mr. Brown [British Prime Minister Gordon Brown] is serious about addressing the question of transparency in offshore banking if he forces the real beneficial owners of any trust to be identified in all jurisdictions.”
But the US Department of Justice did just that, having served UBS almost a year ago with a “John Doe summons,” seeking the names of 19,000 U.S. clients with Swiss accounts hidden from the IRS. UBS said at the Subcommittee hearing in July that it was ready to cooperate. However, virtually none of the information requested by the John Doe summons has been turned over, primarily because the Swiss Government has taken the position that turning over this client account information would violate Swiss secrecy laws. In the deferred prosecution agreement, UBS agreed to contest the summons in court, but if it lost, to turn over the information to the United States or risk resumption of the criminal prosecution against the bank. The Department of Justice has asked the U.S. court that approved the summons to enforce it, and a trial to resolve the issue is now scheduled for July 2009, “one year after the initial request for the information,” according to Senator Levin. “The fact that the United States is having such a difficult time getting the client names, despite catching UBS red-handed and obtaining its admission of wrongdoing, shows how tough the offshore tax evasion problem is.”
Senator Levin also cites the surprisingly widespread use of tax havens by corporations with household names such as Microsoft, which was reported by the Government Accountability Office to have eight subsidiaries in tax haven countries: “In January 2009, Senator [Byron] Dorgan and I released a report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) which shows that out of the 100 largest U.S. publicly traded corporations, 83 have subsidiaries in tax havens. Of the 100 largest federal contractors, 63 have tax haven subsidiaries. Using data from their corporate filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, GAO listed the number of tax haven subsidiaries for each of these corporations. GAO determined, for example, that Morgan Stanley has 273 tax haven subsidiaries, while Citigroup has 427, with 90 in the Cayman Islands alone. News Corp. has 152, while Procter and Gamble has 83, Pfizer has 80, Oracle has 77, and Marathon Oil has 76. My Subcommittee is currently engaged in an effort to understand why so many of these corporations have so many tax haven affiliates. To do that we are going to have to battle secrecy laws in 50 different jurisdictions.”
Senator Levin seems up for the task.
(IP) –The British Government recently sacked the government of the Turks and Caicos Island after it was reported the local premier’s personal assets grew during his five years in office from $US50,000 to a fortune estimated at up to $US180 million, as reported by The Australian news network.
The BBC was even more blunt in reporting the controversial news. “The premier and his cabinet will be sacked, as will the leader of the opposition, speaker and deputy speaker of parliament, the cabinet secretary and members of the judicial and public service commissions other than the chairmen,” wrote the British Broadcasting Corporation. “The House of Assembly will be dissolved and MPs will lose their seats. According to the order laid before the British parliament …the exact date of British restoration of direct rule over the Turks and Caicos Islands depends on the Governor, Gordon Weatherell, acting in his discretion. Once he publishes his date in the local government gazette, the main offices of state shall become vacant,” BBC continued.
Former Premier Michael Misick, who duly resigned after the scandal was made public, describes the move as “modern-day colonialism.” The Inter Press Service (IPS) reports Mr Misick as saying in a statement, “[T]his step by the British cannot be right, morally or otherwise. It is wrong in the 21st century to have an entire population re-colonised in this fashion, with the executive, legislative, judicial and all other powers lying in the hands of the colonial masters, but vested in one person (the governor), who himself, in this case, is not a citizen.”
The former premier continued: “They still view us all as a corrupt people, unfit to govern ourselves. We cannot and should not take this lying down.” Mr Misick called on the UN to intervene on the country’s behalf, according to Bloomberg. Earlier this year, the UN reiterated its support for “de-colonization” efforts worldwide.
“In 1873, after three centuries under Spanish, French, and then British control, the TCI were made a part of Jamaica,” writes IPS. “When that country achieved independence from Britain in August 1962, the Turks and Caicos Islands became a crown colony. It has had its own government since August 1976. In 1979, independence was agreed upon in principle for 1982, but a change in government caused a policy reversal.”
IPS quotes Reuben Meade, a former chief minister of Montserrat, another British colony in the Caribbean, as doubting real independence will ever come for the British Overseas Territories. “From where I sit as a minister of government, the answer is no. It is easier for us to do the bidding of our colonial masters. In doing so, we get money to spend,” he said, adding: “After 375 years of colonial domination, we are yet to see a Black governor in any of the British colonies.”
The sacking of all legislative bodies in the Turks and Caicos Islands comes at the beginning of intense scrutiny into the suspected hidden tax income in offshore banking centers located in the Caribbean and worldwide. The UK Guardian reported the measures contained in the anti tax-haven legislation initiated by US Senator Carl Levin to be a “severe blow” to offshore banking. Nevertheless, Richard Murphy, a British tax accountant who has become one of the world’s leading anti-haven campaigners told The Australian the general agreement made by G20 nations after the summit holds little weight. “These agreements to exchange information are useless; the secrecy will be completely intact,” says. There is an estimated $13 trillion untaxed wealth being filtered through places like Switzerland, Jersey and most Caribbean Islands. “London is the biggest tax haven in the world because all these other places are just branches of London,” Mr Murphy told the Australian.
Addendum:Most of the financial centres listed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), from the Channel Islands to the Caymans or the Cook Islands, are or were British territories. Half of them still have the Queen as their head of state. Britain, Canada and Australia account for 90 per cent of the combined population of the 16 independent nations ruled by the Queen. Most of the other 13 are defined by the OECD as tax havens.
Together the world’s tax havens allow rich individuals to hide trillions of dollars from national tax authorities. The OECD estimates that $US7 trillion ($10 trillion) has been stashed away, while anti-haven campaigners say the true figure is at least $US11.5 trillion.
Places such as Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria are also widely recognised as secretive offshore finance centres.
The OECD has published a list of nations/territories that have the low tax rates, secrecy and poor regulation that define tax havens. The initial list of jurisdictions was derived from US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) court filings identifying certain nations as probable locations for U.S. tax evasion.
Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guernsey/Sark/Alderney, Hong Kong, Isle of Man, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Nauru, Netherlands Antilles, Panama, Samoa, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Singapore, Switzerland. Turks and Caicos. Vanuatu.