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Be different, from Spain to Cuba and Cyprus

Bankia: salida a bolsa
Bankia: salida a bolsa

 

Peter Fieldman

As the Spanish return from the hills, beaches and country, I wish you a belated happy Easter. It could of course be happier but regrettably there is no end to the economic crisis and corruption. I am reminded of the song: “Where have all the euros gone, long time passing.”

Cyprus fills the front pages with a new twist. After years of speculating, and losing, our money, banks have found a simpler way to get it – just help themselves to a share of depositors’ funds. Or, as in the case of Bankia, persuade savers to become shareholders and wipe them out. All this has of course destroyed any confidence or trust left in the banking and political system. Just what we need when our economies and social cohesion are facing collapse.

Meanwhile the Russian oligarchs seem to have benefited from their political connections and managed to shift their –some say illicit untaxed funds – to safer shores across the Atlantic. It shows how immoral politicians and bankers have become when they allow the rich and undesirables to move freely with their billions intact, openly display their wealth, launder their cash in tax havens with impunity and obtain tax favours, while the majority of the population face draconian austerity measures and see their funds confiscated. Nunez Feijoo should know. At least one Russian oligarch can rest in peace; Boris Berezovsky died mysteriously in his London mansion. Scott Fitzgerald was credited with the line, “The Rich are Different.”

While the Barcenas saga continues, the ERE scandal exposed the massive corruption in Andalucia involving local politicians and business people, who have been taking millions from the money destined for the unemployed. And of course Grinan knew nothing about it.

Mercedes Alaya, the judge investigating the scandal, is very courageous, fighting a lone battle against powerful vested interests. She and Judge Pablo Ruz have taken over from Judge Garzon and it is hoped they will not suffer the same fate to protect the elite. The one good news was the Luxembourg ruling over Spain’s eviction laws. It is a step in the right direction.

I have just returned from a visit to Cuba. Something I have always wanted to do while the current regime is still in place. The people may be poor and freedom of speech may be curtailed, but I saw hardly any begging, no homeless on the street, it was safe to walk at night, there is no racism, the people are well fed, benefit from free education and health, they now own their homes, and banks, energy and utility companies are owned by the state. And tourism is growing fast despite the U S sanctions. The Cubans may be resigned to their fate, faced with revolutionary and communist propaganda, but at least they go about their daily routine without the pointless constant financial brainwashing we get about the FTSE, Dow Jones or IBEX going up or down by 0.3% every minute of the day demonstrating the influence the banking sector has over our lives.

And if you are concerned about the future of our press, think about Cuba with a mere handful of newspapers, published on two or three days a week, running to 8 pages and a weekly 16 page economic publication, which I only saw on the aircraft home. While I was there local TV coverage was devoted to “El Commandante” Chavez. To be fair hotels have CNN, BBC World, France TV and TVE although I am not sure these would be available in people’s homes. However I was lucky to have Ernest Hemingway staying in my hotel, see photo.

While Che Guevara’s image is everywhere, many Cubans are unaware that Che was as great a symbol for youth in Europe and the U S as he was, and still is, in Cuba. I belong to the Che generation. As the current regime is reaching the end of its era change will undoubtably be coming soon. The danger is that the country will face a sudden transformation which will tip it back into the corrupt capitalist society it was before the revolution. There has to be a balance between capitalism and socialism.

As a staunch supporter of Europe, like so many, I have become disillusioned with our national Governments and Brussels. It is inconceivable that our political leaders and all the Eurocrats could be so inept, negligence or corrupt. And what is the use of the BCE and FMI if they can’t manage the Euro and the financial system. Allowing Cyprus to join the Euro given the knowledge about its tax haven status shows whose side these institutions are on. Despite their forecasts and statistics, economists got it wrong or were ignored by politicians. The greatest economist who ever lived was fictitious; his name, Mr Micawber and his doctrine: “Earn a pound, spend nineteen shillings and sixpence, happiness. Earn a pound, spend twenty shillings and sixpence, misery.

I have always maintained that Europe went too far by allowing the Eastern communist countries to join the club before there were any clear sets of rules. A club of 6 which became 15 cannot cope with 27 or 28 members with different concepts of how the club should be run. With great differences in culture and standard of living it was always going to cause problems as well as leading to an exodus of people drawn towards the richer countries of Western Europe. I can understand Britain’s fear of a massive influx of Romanians and Bulgarians next year in search of jobs adding to the already catastrophic immigrant situation.

Given the current divisions the risk of a collapse of the European Union has to be real. Economists agree that it is impossible to have economic and political union without fiscal and and monetary harmonisation. And the crisis has of course brought out the survival instinct. Merkel wants to protect Germany, Cameron, the UK and Hollande, France. Meanwhile Italy is still waiting for a Government, but we do have a new Pope who met another Pope.

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