Opinion: Why the Panama Papers Matter

No doubt you have come at least overheard talk of the massive data leak known as the “Panama Papers”. For those unaware, the Panama Papers refer to 2.6 terabytes of data leaked to the press concerning the offshore accounts of billionaire and millionaires with the firm Mossack Fonseca.

Now most of us cynics are thinking “so what? We’ve known all along that the super-rich own offshore companies to hide from taxes and other unethical doings. Nothing will change from this leak.” On the contrary, Iceland’s Prime Minister has already taken a step back to recover from protests after the leaks linked him and his wife to investments in the countries failed banks, to add salt to the wound of the people he was elected on a platform of cleaning up Iceland’s financial corruption.

More important than who might have to take the fall this time around, the Panama Papers will provide the same service that Snowden’s leak did; it gives us tangible proof of what we’ve believed all along.  What could only amount to unsubstantiated speculation before now has a series on mainstream exposes, a catchy name and faces to the corruption.

In the past when savvy activists or politicians spoke about offshore tax havens it wasn’t taken seriously by the general public. It was a complex issue with fairly vague actors. Who was hiding money in these offshore companies? Without any evidence or support it was all just baseless accusations.

Now people like Bernie Sanders have been validated. When they speak about massive corruption, income inequality, and the amount of money the super-rich actually take from the people they can now back their claims with tangible facts.

No doubt this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to offshore companies. When it comes to tax havens Panama didn’t even make it into the top five destinations. Singapore, Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong and even the United States itself still lead Panama in financial secrecy and offshore accounts.

At the time of this article there have been large protests calling for the resignation of Mauricio Marci, the president of Argentina. Two members of France’s nationalist La Pen party have been implicated, David Cameron, Vladmir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have all been connected to the papers. The list goes on, with more people be connected every day.

Here the various media outlets have agreed to take another page from Snowden’s playbook. Instead of releasing all of the names and documents at once they have agreed to stagger the information over a 14 day period in order to ensure the maximum amount of impact.

It seems like the people are always on the precipice of action, always saying “this is the last straw”. While I doubt there will be any real change that will spring from these leaks, the documents definitely serve as fuel for the engine of change. Movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter show that the people can organize on a grassroots level fairly successfully. The next step is clear leadership and a focused message, evidence like the Panama Papers will help zero that scope.

 

Leo Stepnowsky

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