The quest for tax justice in Latin America was the topic of a workshop hosted by the Latin American Alliance of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches (AIPRAL) at the World Council of Churches 11th Assembly.
Moderated by Raíssa Vieira Brasil, a vice-president of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), the panel included Dora Arce Valentin, AIPRAL executive secretary; Dario Barolin, former AIPRAL executive secretary; Wertson Brasil de Souza, AIPRAL president; David Haslam, a Methodist tax advocate based in the United Kingdom; and Humberto Shikiya, managing director of CREAS (the Ecumenical Regional Center for Consultation and Service).
“Since the beginning, the ecumenical movement has been involved critically in the problems of social and tax justice and especially since the economic global crisis in 2008, which sent millions of people into poverty,” said Arce Valentin, also general secretary of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba.
She noted the importance of the Accra Confession, “which calls for social justice and climate justice, based upon biblical language but also justice in all its terms.” The Accra Confession was a foundational document for the New International Financial and Economic Architecture (NIFEA) project, an ecumenical partnership working for economic justice.
The Zacchaeus Tax (ZacTax) Campaign is a key component of the NIFEA project, seeking to transform national and global tax systems to deliver equity for all and make reparations for past exploitations and injustices, ensuring that impoverished communities have sufficient funds for the social and public good.
Noting the ways in which current tax laws favor the rich, Haslam said, “We just want people to pay their taxes. To save the soul of the richest, we have to get them to pay their taxes.”
Asking why tax justice and reparations should be spoken about, Shikiya, an economist from Argentina, said, “I think it is of the utmost importance that people live and develop with the full dignity of human rights. This makes a whole society to be democratic, peaceful, and inclusive. For this to be a reality, governments need a tax system, and this system needs to be fair.”
Shikiya presented a wealth of information showing the ways in which Latin American tax systems were unfair to the vast majority of the continent’s people and most decidedly favorable toward the rich, landowning elite.
Barolin, who is also a pastor in the Waldensian church in Uruguay, said, “If you remember the story of Zaccheaus, it’s not hard to understand why this is inspirational for a campaign for fair taxation and reparation. Zaccheaus is somebody who understands the need for a fair tax system. He not only acknowledges that, but he proceeds to repair, giving back four times what he had taken.”
“Inequity doesn’t result in only economic factors, but is linked to values and spirituality,” said Barolin. “It is thus important that churches and theology participate in this discussion to say that behind economics are values.”
Brasil de Souza, who is also a professional tax collector in Brazil, outlined how AIPRAL has been promoting the ZacTax Campaign in Latin America, bringing together church leaders with economic experts and civil society advocates.
“It is important to hear from the experts how these complex systems work,” he said. “Only from then can we strongly advocate for fairer systems.”
Based on an action plan developed with input from economists and advocates, AIPRAL will continue the ZacTax Campaign in Latin America, inviting other Christian churches into a growing ecumenical movement for tax justice.
The World Council of Churches 11th Assembly was held in Karlsruhe, Germany, 31 August to 8 September.
The NIFEA project includes the participation of the Council for World Mission, Lutheran World Federation, World Methodist Council, World Council of Churches, and the WCRC. NIFEA and the Zacchaeus Tax Campaign receive funding from Otto per Mille.