Editorial — 19 January 2016
Belize’s banking crisis

The vast majority of Belizeans know nothing about money, except that you work for it and then you spend it to buy things you need or want. After that, you go out and work for more, so that you can spend that on more things you need or want. It’s an unending cycle: work for it, spend it, work for it, spend it, ad infinitum. In many cultures and parts of the world, however, money is actually an industry, a commodity, a product. If you accumulate money and have it available to do business with, money can make money for you. Instead of your working for money, money works for you. Can you dig it?

Traditionally, we non-scholars think of the Jews as having invented the money industry, or banking. Centuries and centuries ago, the Jews were scattered in persecuted communities all across the countries of Europe. They lived in confined, depressing sections of the European cities, slums which were referred to as “ghettos.” The Jews owned nothing except their own wits, discipline, and will. They became savers of money, accumulating it in such quantities that kings of Europe had to go to them to borrow money in order to wage war, war being an exercise that European peoples engaged in on a frequent basis throughout what is called the Middle Ages.

Eventually the Jews became so wealthy and powerful that they persuaded Christian countries like the United Kingdom and the United States to support them in their grabbing of land from the Palestinian people, land on which the Palestinians had lived and farmed for a thousand years. Thus, the Jews established Israel in 1948. Millions of Palestinians became dispossessed, refugees, and victims of great injustice and bitter suffering.

All over the Middle East, Arabs and Muslims were outraged by what Israel, supported by its NATO allies, had perpetrated upon their Arab, Muslim brothers and sisters in Palestine, and the United States of America, even as it was becoming the largest economy in the world and the dominant military power in the world, became the hated enemy of the bulk of the populations in countries like Egypt, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and even Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia being a monarchy whose ruling royalty had been bought off by the Americans because the U.S. needed the Saudi oil fields. The Saudi people on the ground, however, are anti-Israel and anti-United States. Israel receives US$3 billion every year in military assistance from the United States, and has become the most dangerous military force in the Middle East, equipped with an arsenal of nuclear missiles.

As the years went by, after the Arab nations had been defeated by Israel in wars in 1967 and 1973, and after Israel had grabbed even more Palestinian lands, and hundreds of thousands more Palestinians became refugees in Arab countries in the Middle East, the Palestinians and their allies began to build organizations to fight against Israel. These were such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah, and so on. These organizations have huge budgets, and large portions of their budgets are financed, ironically enough, by moneys donated to their cause by Arab and Muslim individuals and groups working in the United States.

The case of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda is a little different, but presumably bin Laden and al-Qaeda were responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center skyscrapers in New York City. It was these so-called 9/11 attacks which frightened the American government into all their investigations into the movement of financing from the United States, through the American banking system, to the different organizations which the U.S. security system had designated as “terrorist.”

The overall offshore banking industry has always featured the handling of “dirty money,” such as the profits derived from, and used to finance deals in, the narcotics business, the arms industry, human trafficking, the pornographic industry, political assassinations and destabilizations, and so on and so forth. Compared to the terrorism which the 9/11 attacks represented, inside the continental United States itself and murdering thousands of U.S. citizens, all the criminal activity we noted in the previous sentence had been peanuts. 9/11 was a very, very big deal, a game changer in fact.

The American political leaders and their national security agencies felt that the best way to fight the terror groups in the Middle East was to reduce their U.S.-derived funding as much as possible. This meant turning the screws on American banks and their banking partners overseas. In order to protect themselves from federal heat, American banks have begun cutting off their working partnerships with banks in countries like Belize. The amount of business Bank of America, say, does with the banks in a small country in Belize, is not worth the danger which that business represents.

Bankers all over the world, despite their invariably clean-cut personal appearance, are often the most unscrupulous and immoral of human beings when triggered, and what is true in the rest of the world is true in Belize. There is a lot of dirty money in the Belize banking system. This dirty money is how the Belizean economy keeps roaring along, relatively and regionally speaking, when any fool can see that there is no real productivity or growth taking place in The Jewel. That quantum of dirty money is now endangering the whole banking system in Belize, because legitimate Belizean business transactions absolutely require the correspondent banking relationship with the big American banks. The American banks have been spooked, so they are cutting our banks loose.

It’s not fair what’s going on, because the American bankers are no saints. Anything our banks do in Belize, they learned it from the Americans. But, “fair” doesn’t count in the Darwinian banking world. No less a person than Belize’s Prime Minister/Minister of Finance now has to lead an urgent delegation of financial technocrats to Washington to seek some relief from the pressure. This “de-risking” matter has become a crisis for Belize.

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