September 11, 2001 and the religious war that changed the USA
Since the beginning of this holy war against the U.S. starting on September 11, 2001 I have been trying to make sense of this situation and understand what is happening in the world. I am puzzled also by what lies ahead of us as the consequences of the actions and reactions of the U.S. government towards terrorism and how all of this will affect the economies of the United States and also of Brazil. I wrote this article because I have many questions on my mind related to what is happening, but I don't have many answers to resolve these problems.
After President Bush declared war on terrorism, the U.S. government took some drastic measures to wage war on terrorism. On October 26, 2001 the American President signed into law the USA Patriot Act of 2001. This law is based on the assumption that Americans are willing to give up their civil liberties in exchange for safety. A legislative analysis of the USA Patriot Act by the American Civil Liberties Union shows the following:
For immigrants, the law is a dramatic setback that gives the government the authority to detainindefinitely in some casesnon-citizens who are not terrorists, on the basis of vague allegations of a risk to national security.
Allows for indefinite detention of non-citizens who are not terrorists on minor visa violations if they cannot be deported because they are stateless, their country of origin refuses to accept them or because they would face torture in their country of origin.
Minimizes judicial supervision of federal telephone and Internet surveillance by law enforcement authorities.
Expands the ability of the government to conduct secret searches.
Gives the Attorney General and the Secretary of State the power to designate domestic groups as terrorist organizations and deport any non-citizen who belongs to them.
Grants the FBI broad access to sensitive business records about individuals without having to show evidence of a crime.
Leads to large-scale investigations of American citizens for "Intelligence" purposes.
The war on terrorism
When President Bush declared war on terrorism he also indirectly declared war on every Mafia around the world, including the Italian Mafia, the Chinese Mafia, the Russian Mafia, the Colombian Mafia, the Japanese Mafia and so on.
There are 23 pages in this new act dealing with the subject of money-laundering. This extensive section of the USA Patriot Act also gives the government new powers and makes it easy for the government to freeze and confiscate assets of anyone. I believe that the USA Patriot Act will have a major future impact on the USA economy.
This became an economic war against all the mafias around the world, since every year these mafias handle billions and billions of dollars and they use money laundering techniques to move the money around the globe. The Electronic Journal of the U.S. Department of State, May 2001, reported that "...worldwide money laundering activity amounts to roughly $1 trillion dollars a year".
This money laundering war also became a war against the tax haven countries around the world. This new law also will affect many wealthy American citizens who have money outside the U.S. for tax reasons. It does not matter that these people are not involved in terrorism; they still will be affected by the new law.
As Time magazine reported on October 22, 2001, in an article about banking on secrecy, "...tax havens are one of the world's great growth industries. There are more of them than ever, from Liechtenstein to Panama to Vanuatu, a tiny rock sticking out of the Pacific, well-wired into the world financial system. And the amount of money they harbor around the globe is staggeringas much as $5 trillion dollars, according to the U.S. State Department.
The Cayman Islands (pop. 35,000) has more than $800 billion dollars on depositfully one-fifth as much as the entire U.S. banking system (total U.S. banking system is equal to $4 trillion dollars). And those Cayman deposits are swelling by an estimated $120 billion dollars a year. Not all offshore money is linked to crime or terrorism. Much of it belongs to wealthy people who are avoiding taxes in ways that often are legal under current law oras the ads for "asset protection lawyers" on CNBC make blatantly clearare shielding money from business partners and spouses".
As of June 2001 there were about 35 nations and territories classified as tax havens and potential money-laundering venues. Fortune magazine's issue of October 29, 2001 had an article by Peter Elkind about money-laundering in which he mentioned the following: "...When President Bush launched his war on terrorism, he vowed to "starve the terrorists of funding."
The Senate enthusiastically backed that pledge by launching the toughest attack on money-laundering in years. The money-laundering measure should make it easier to nail all kinds of criminalsdrug kingpins, tax cheats, mobsters, and corrupt dictatorswho have stashed money in countries with strict bank-secrecy laws. Unfortunately, terrorists may not feel much pain. The goal of terrorism is to generate chaosnot cashso terrorists are far less likely to leave a conventional money trail. Terrorists make use of the hawala system, an ancient network for moving money around the globe without using wire transfers, banks, or any other part of the conventional financial structure. Hawala traders don't keep records".
I would like to suggest that people read a book by Edward Burman called The Inquisition to learn about the economic and cultural effects that the Inquisition had in Europe. Quoting from this book: "...Mariano da Alatri has argued that among all the punishments used by the Inquisition, that of confiscation had the greatest social repercussion, and we shall see how the obviously attractive elements of such a policy were soon to be perverted for political motives. One of the most disastrous aspects, especially for wealthy suspects, was the widespread practice of confiscating property even before a trial had taken place .inquisitors held the important privileges of being able to sell goods confiscated from heretics...the possibilities for corruption are evident". Many wealthy people became a target of the Inquisition, and the goal was to confiscate their assets and property. Don't we ever learn any lessons from past history? I guess not!
A Disguised Economic War
As I mentioned before, the money harbored in the tax havens around the world is estimated to be around $5 trillion dollars. This was a growth industry before the U.S. passed the USA Patriot Act; now business will be even better.
The USA Patriot Act increased substantially the risk of doing business in the U.S. because of the possibility of confiscation of assets and property. If anything, a lot of money will leave the U.S. for a safer place, in turn decapitalizing the U.S. economy.
It is naïve of the USA to expect that these 35 nations and territories, which were identified as tax havens and potential money laundering venues, would give up an estimated $5 trillion dollars in profitable business because they are intimidated by the USA.
In many of these nations being a financial center is the major source of business and income for their economies. They provide a necessary service to global capital markets. What kind of business does the USA government propose that these nations replace their current business with?
The USA Patriot Act wrapped with the American flag the money laundering and tax haven issue, but in reality this is an American disguised economic war. This is about getting a piece of the profitable and growing $5 trillion dollars international money business.
A Golden Opportunity for Brazil.
Brazil, being among the major capitalist countries in the world, can take advantage of this unique opportunity caused by the money that will leave the U.S. for safer havens. Brazil can strengthen further its position as a financial center by passing new banking laws to give maximum protection to clients, such as in the major banking centers. Brazil will be able to get a big piece of this new pie by taking the following steps:
1) As the first step for this strategy to work, it is imperative that Brazil adopts the Euro as its new currency to give monetary stability to the country and to give confidence to people to invest in Brazil.
2) Brazil would pass new laws giving maximum protection to the owners of financial assets and property to protect them against any form of government confiscation.
If anything, the money-laundering laws in the U.S. will make the money-laundering business even more profitable because of the higher risks involved in that business, and the tax haven countries will have even more profits from this new situation.
I believe that in the long run this U.S. war on money-laundering will be as successful as the war on drugs that the U.S. has waged in the last 30 years. You can't change human nature by legislation; too many human beings are greedy and corrupt.
The other problem is: who can define what war on terrorism really means? Who decides which group is a terrorist group? There are hundreds of groups fighting different governments for different reasons. The problem is that to wage a war on terrorism is an absurd idea.
I wonder what the long term full impact of the USA Patriot Act will be on the U.S. culture and economythe capital flight from the U.S. economy, the impact on immigrants and their families who are living in the U.S. today, the impact on new immigration to the U.S., and the impact on civil liberties of the American people.
The USA Patriot Act represents the victory of the terrorists over our free society.
Ricardo C. Amaral, the author, was born in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. He attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey, USA, where he received a BA degree in Economics and later an MBA degree in Finance. He continued his Academic studies towards a PhD degree in Economics at Fordham University, but then elected to immerse himself totally into a professional corporate career. You can contact him by email at email@example.com