03 December 2008

Expensive, those principles (by Martín Caparrós)

What follows is a translation of an article by Martín Caparrós on today's Crítica Digital (Caros, los principios) about the sweeping tax and capital smuggling amnesty proposed by Kirchner's government and currently being discussed in Congress. In dire need of fresh funds, Cristina is basically offering criminals a free pass to launder their money in Argentina, and inviting all those Argentinians who illegally sent their undeclared foreign currency abroad to take them back without paying taxes, dropping any legal investigations under way. [For some more background, see the American Task Force coverage.] Caparrós, once a leftist militant, again voices his disappointment with this supposedly progressive government, whose true leader (Néstor Kirchner) famously said he would never agree to check his principles at the door of the Casa Rosada.

The good thing is that we now at least know how much they're worth. Or rather how much they believe they're worth. (It may be, if anything, as in the classical sudaca joke about the best business deal: buy an Argentinian for what he's worth, sell him for what he thinks he's worth.) We now know, I was saying, the price. They're not cheap: they must believe their principles are better than they look — and they're charging a lot for them. The savings repatriation and tax moratorium proposal, which Congress began discussing yesterday, is that: a price label. They were supposed to have some principles: equality before the law, opposition to financial capitalism, a "new tax culture", a push towards some [wealth] redistribution by the State, an insistence on justice being made despite [purposeful] oversights. All of which crumbles when the government tells those who took away the money, those who evaded taxes, that there's no problem, that everything's forgotten. For a handful of dollars: various economists reckon that, on the best scenario, five percent of the Argentine capital that escaped might come back — that is, some six billion. That, if anyone believes them and brings in the bucks, which isn't a safe bet at all. With luck, the State could recover 10% of that 5%, some 600 million, and at the same time, of course, take advantage of the modicum of reactivation that money could bring to our economy.

That's what their principles are worth. Or rather the price of shitting on them: if you laundered money, if you evaded taxes, if you forged your bills to take home your "10% commission", don't worry, we'll fix it; and if you were in jail, you can now go home. If you stole 10 kilos of beef from the butcher's on the corner, or 80 pesos from some boy on a dark street, then no, this deal doesn't include you. Evading taxes is not stealing from one person — it's stealing from all of them, from the State which should spend that money on schools and hospitals for everyone, or at least for those who don't have them. Tax evasion is robbery worse than any other robbery: it's robbing those who have the least. These are the crooks this law wants to spare: the big crooks, the shirt-and-tie ones, the friends.

That's why this law is a full stop: a point of no return. If they pass it as it is, they won't ever again be able to speak of their principles: they will have sold them, under the excuse of a crisis that didn't exist days ago. A bit expensive, it's true: as in that bad joke.
The translation is free; the links are mine. Caparrós employs a few local references that may not be obvious unless you live in Argentina: the use of sudaca as a self-effacing slur; the soundbite por una nueva cultura tributaria ("for a new tax culture") which the Federal Tax Administration uses to advertise its fight for citizens' fiscal responsibility (which this moratorium turns into a mockery); the diego or "10% commission" — an euphemism for bribery; the expression punto final, which compares this obscene pardon for the wealthy to the law that halted investigations of the dictatorship's crimes. It just came out and I felt I had to share.

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