Amidst the scandal of the Panama Papers leak on Monday, one politician remains unfazed: Bernie Sanders.
When Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca leaked 11.5 million documents to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), they exposed how the upper end of the 1 percent cashes billions of dollars each year through gray areas in tax law and shell companies. Given the magnitude of the release, 400 journalists worked for an entire year to compile and sort through the documents. Over 140 world leaders from 50 different countries worldwide were implicated in the scandal.
In October of 2011, Bernie Sanders expressed his disapproval of the Panama trade pact, denouncing the typical arguments heard in favor of the deal. As he stated on the Senate floor,
“Panama’s entire economic output is only $26.7 billion per year, or about two-tenths of one percent of the US economy. No one can legitimately claim that approving this free trade agreement will significantly increase American jobs.”
Sanders continued on to argue that Panama was “a world leader when it comes to allowing large corporations and wealthy Americans to evade US taxes,” allowing for these individuals to “evade about $100 billion in taxes through abusive and illegal offshore tax havens”. His ultimate attempt appeared to be to warn of the inevitable widespread corruption that would take effect if the pact was approved.
His words sound eerily prophetic in light of this leak, as Sanders has taken to acknowledging in the wake of his campaign. In a statement released on Tuesday, Sanders confirmed he has been “opposed to the Panama Free Trade Agreement from day one,” stating that he wished he had “been proven wrong”, but the damage of the scams was “even worse” than he had feared.
While leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Icelandic Prime Minister Davíð Gunnlaugsson have struggled to fight off accusations, Sanders has promised that if elected, he will terminate the agreement within his first six months in office, followed by “an immediate investigation into US banks, corporations, and wealthy individuals who have been stashing their cash in Panama to avoid taxes.”
News of Americans implicated in the scandal have been few and far between; however, given the massive amount of data, it may be a while before early reports showing 211 names corresponding to US addresses are confirmed. Despite this lack of absolute, the Panama Papers leak fits perfectly into Sanders’ narrative of corruption and greed among this country’s elite.
Sanders has already begun to use this scandal as means of attacking his opponent, Hillary Clinton, who initially opposed the agreement yet later pushed it in her time as Secretary of the State. At the time, Clinton called the initiative “the leading edge of a job-creating trade agenda, that will open markets, level the playing field for our businesses and workers, and champion America’s working families in an age of tough global competition.” Her statement was released just a day after Sanders’ Senate speech; despite the proximity in time frame she made no move to address the “tax haven” reputation of Panama.
Sanders is currently taking fire at Clinton for her move to push the free trade pact through Congress, calling the results “a disaster” and using her encouragement of the pact as ammunition to show her incompetency. Perhaps his longstanding opposition and Clinton’s change of heart will prompt Democratic voters to reconsider whom they elect come November.
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