The World Today for December 05, 2023

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Treasure Islands


The Council of the European Union recently deemed the Caribbean countries of Antigua, Barbuda, and Belize as “non-cooperative” on requests for tax information, governance inquiries, and transparency. They joined Panama and Anguilla, the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Turks and Caicos Islands on the EU’s list.

The British Virgin Islands territory and Costa Rica, on the other hand, reported Reuters, were removed from the list.

The moves reflected how the Caribbean is home to many options for wealthy folks who want to evade tax collectors, as well as how it has become the focus of law enforcement and others who want to catch the tax cheats who use the islands to conceal their money.

In a story on how governments and international regulators are cracking down on individuals and companies that hide their money in the Caribbean, the Economist described the British Virgin Islands as a “luminous speck” in the sea, that for 40 years has “made a chunk of its living selling foreigners brass-plate companies – shells that exist largely on paper, without real staff or offices.”

The British magazine noted that fees on shell companies have funded as much as two-thirds of the British overseas territory’s budget and made the islands “famous” in the business world as a low-tax jurisdiction for corporate headquarters. Crime, fraud, and money laundering flourished.

Recently, however, leaders from the United Kingdom held a meeting in the islands to showcase their success at cracking down on financial crime. As the St. Kitts & Nevis Observer explained, they discussed drug cartels laundering money, importers using false invoices to evade customs, the use of shell companies to transfer illicit funds into the US, large cash transactions, and suspicious international wires were among the tricks that government agencies and financial institutions needed to spot.

Similarly, in the Bahamas, officials told the Caribbean Media Corporation that they were implementing new technologies and other reforms to improve their transparency with European governments.

As Foreign Policy wrote, the Bahamas were where Sam Bankman-Fried established FTX, the largest cryptocurrency exchange to ever collapse, a failure that investigators are now picking through. Bankman-Fried is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of seven counts of fraud in early November.

Other countries might be doubling down on their arguably questionable business models, however.

The Cayman Islands, another so-called British overseas territory, plans on opening an office in Singapore to market its offshore wealth services to “Asia’s hedge funds and wealthy families,” reported the Financial Times. The islands aren’t rolling out the red carpet, an investment manager told the newspaper. They were building a runway for private jets.

The Cayman Islands, which have no corporate income tax, have already become a clearinghouse for money invested in China, the New York Times reported.

An opinion writer in the Guardian noted the irony of wealthy European and American people facilitating and patronizing these tax havens over the years before their governments sought to curtail them.

Perhaps. But ultimately the tax man almost always wins.


Running Large


India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party won three out of four state elections this week, crucial votes that highlighted the growing strength of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of national polls next year, the Associated Press reported.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to take control of the states of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan from Rahul Gandhi’s Indian National Congress. The BJP also retained its control over its stronghold in Madhya Pradesh by securing a fifth term.

The Congress party comfortably won in Telangana state, previously dominated by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi party. The Zoram People’s Movement had taken control of Mizoram state.

The outcome of the vote underscored how Modi and his party have maintained their popularity, after almost a decade in power, analysts said, adding that it’s likely both will repeat this successful showing in federal elections next year.

If so, Modi would serve his third term.

Still, a new alliance of 28 opposition parties led by the Congress party, called INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance), is expected to challenge Modi’s party nationally.

In other recent elections, Congress ousted BJP governments in two states, including Karnataka in the southwest, which belongs to the Dravidian linguistic group, as opposed to the Indo-Aryan group which includes Hindi, India’s predominant language.

Meanwhile, the rise of the BJP and Modi has also been marked by the rise of India as an international player – but has also seen a spike in oppression and violence by Hindu nationalists targeting ethnic and religious minorities, primarily Muslims.

Magical Thinking


An overwhelming majority of Venezuelans voted in favor of incorporating a large area of neighboring Guyana into Venezuela in a referendum Sunday that has stoked tensions between the two South American nations over a long-running territorial dispute, CNN reported.

The referendum centered on the disputed territory of Essequibo, an area comprising around two-thirds of Guyana that Venezuela alleges was stolen when the border was drawn more than a century ago.

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council said more than 95 percent said “yes” to each of the five questions asked in the referendum. For example, voters were asked whether they agreed to create a Venezuelan state in the Essequibo region, provide its population with Venezuelan citizenship and incorporate “that state into the map of Venezuelan territory.”

Caracas has long claimed the area as its own due to its historical inclusion in its boundaries during the Spanish colonial period. It rejects an 1899 ruling by international arbitrators that established the current border between Venezuela and Guyana – the latter a British colony until 1966.

Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro has cast the referendum as anti-imperialist, but Guyana has criticized it as a step towards annexation and an “existential threat.”

Before the vote, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Venezuela to refrain from “taking any action which would modify the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute.”

The world court plans to hold a trial on the case in spring, even though Caracas does not recognize the ICJ’s jurisdiction on the issue.

The situation has prompted concerns across the region, resulting in troop movements between the two countries and leaving many Guyanese on edge.

Questions remain about how Venezuela will proceed following the vote’s results, with analysts saying any attempt to assert claim over the territory will be met with international resistance.

Meanwhile, others noted that Maduro stands to gain politically from the vote as he is facing a tough re-election campaign ahead of next year’s presidential polls.

Ceauşescu’s Children


A special Romanian committee looking into crimes perpetrated by the former communist regime discovered this week that thousands of children died in the country’s infamous networks of orphanages and other residential facilities, with many of the deaths attributed to neglect, Radio Free Europe reported.

The Institute for the Investigation of Crimes of Communism and the Memory of the Romanian Exile (IICCMER) was formed in 2009 to investigate crimes during the reign of dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, who ruled the eastern European country between 1965 and 1989 – when he was executed with his wife Elena following a popular revolt.

Recent findings by the IICCMER showed that more than 15,000 minors – including those orphaned, mentally or physically disabled children, or those abandoned by their parents – died at 26 facilities across the country between 1967 and 1990, when the institutions were shut down.

The causes of death were usually starvation, lack of medical care and abuse.

A new analysis from RFE’s Romanian Service on the committee’s probe showed that many of these children were sent to these institutions to help finance the facilities, with authorities asking parents to pay for their children’s “treatment.”

But historian Cosmin Popa told the outlet that officials rarely took into consideration the child’s welfare or health when they decided who was sent to one of these facilities.

More than 300,000 children were placed in Romania’s network of orphanages and other institutions between 1954 and 1989. Many of them later came to be known as “Ceauşescu’s children.”

During his rule, Ceauşescu implemented policies to boost birth rates, such as banning abortion for women under 40 with fewer than four children. While this resulted in a baby boom, many of the children were born to impoverished parents and eventually ended up in state-run institutions.

The fall of communism revealed the appalling conditions in these facilities, with broadcasted images of emaciated children living in squalor gaining global attention.

Despite the IICMER’s efforts to uncover these atrocities, no one has ever been held accountable for the deaths in these institutions.


Weirdly Lethal

Photos and footage of anglerfish make them look petrifying at first glance, but some of these deep-sea predators are known for some odd behaviors.

Case in point, scientists recently discovered that the whipnose anglerfish likes to swim around upside down, the New York Times reported.

Anglerfish are known for their sharp teeth and bioluminescent lures sprouting from their noses, which they use to attract unsuspecting prey. Whipnoses are about the size of a housecat, but their lures are around four times their body’s length – although this only applies to the female species.

Initially, marine researchers suspected that the fish species would dangle their spiny lures in front of their faces – similar to other anglerfish – but video footage suggested otherwise.

In their study, a research team studied videos of various whipnoses found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Footage from a 1999 underwater mission about midway between Hawaii and California showed one of the deep-sea fish floating motionless and upside down. At the time, scientists described it as a goofy – but bizarre – behavior.

But other video footage from other regions showed that living upside down was common for whipnoses.

While this behavior doesn’t look intimidating, the team suspected that swimming upside down makes the anglerfish more lethal: Keeping the lure further from their mouth allows the creature to take down larger and faster prey, such as squids.

The new findings were possible thanks to the use of remotely operated vehicles that have allowed marine researchers to better study deep-sea ecosystems.

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