Film Review - Cancel the Debt Now!: the Jubilee 2000 Campaign

 CANCEL THE DEBT NOW!: The Jubilee 2000 Campaign

produced by Anne Macksoud, John Ankele, and John Miglietta
Jubilee 2000/USA, 1999
222 East Capitol St., NE
Washington, DC 20003
25 minutes: $10 VHS format

Jubilee, as described in the Old Testament of the Bible, was a celebration held every 50 years in which debts were canceled and slaves were freed. Taking its cue from that ancient tradition, Jubilee 2000 is a worldwide movement calling for cancellation of the debt owed by the poorest of the world's peoples.

Cancel the Debt Now!, a video distributed by the Jubilee 2000 campaign, shows how the desperate living conditions and environmental degradation of poor countries are magnified by the debts they owe to the rich, industrial nations. The video also explains the origins of the debt and delivers an emphatic message calling for its cancellation.

The film alternates footage of destitute slums and environmental degradation with interviews with Jubilee 2000 supporters, including Jubilee USA chair JoMarie Griesgraber. "Many countries have paid two, three, even many times as much as they had originally borrowed, but still the basic debt remains unpaid because of the escalating interest rates," says Griesgraber. "Let the countries be freed to take care of their own people. That's what the Jubilee campaign is about."

While watching the film, two stark facts jump out and rattle the viewers' comfortable cage: First, the poorest of the poor are repaying money they never received. Loans made in the '70s and '80s to Third World Countries were often spent to arm the military against their own people, exploit natural resources to the benefit of multinational corporations, and secure the power and wealth of corrupt regimes.

And second, the enormity of the debt service - paying the principal plus exorbitant interest rates - amounts to slavery, virtually eliminating meaningful self-determination.

As countries descend further into absolute poverty, where shelter, clean water, true nourishment, and decent healthcare are unknown, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have offered Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) to "help" these countries repay their loans. The SAPs restructure the original loans conditioned upon terms of economic austerity and privatization of industries. This cure has turned out to be worse than the disease, as governments slash healthcare and education and strip the land and waters of their countries to meet the conditions for loan restructure.

In 1998, the Guardian reported that Microsoft earns $24 million per day, while sub-Saharan Africa pays $24 million per day in debt service. Methodist Bishop Mondlate of Mozambique says in the film, "I would tell the American people, it is not bad to live in comfort, but at the moment, their comfort is costing lives in our country."

As the Jubilee 2000 movement grows worldwide, the World Bank, the IMF, Citibank, and other institutions have been responding. President Clinton recently announced that the US would forgive 100 percent of debt owed to it by poor countries. (See "US to Cancel Debt," p. 9.) The Jubilee 2000 movement is showing that citizens can pressure financial and elective institutions to address debt relief.


Margaret Doyle is office manager at the Positive Futures Network and a freelance writer.

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