Drop the Debt!

Religious organizations from around the world have combined forces in a successful multiyear campaign to convince international finance organizations like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank to cancel the debt owed by developing nations and to challenge the economic model that has given rise to the debt.

“We have seen a growing and unprecedented convergence of religious voices around achieving the Millennium Development Goals [of the United Nations], and full debt cancellation is a central part of those efforts,” says Adam Taylor, co-chair of Jubilee USA.

The word Jubilee comes from the Biblical concept that every 50th year should be a “jubilee” year in which all debts are forgiven. Debt cancellation advocates argue that it is justice, not charity, that motivates their efforts. The developing world now spends $13 on debt repayment for every $1 it receives in grants, say Jubilee organizers; $550 billion has been paid in principal and interest over the last three decades on $540 billion of loans, yet there is still a $523 billion debt burden, according to www.globalissues.org. Much of this money, say debt cancellation advocates, consists of “odious debt,” or loans made to military governments and dictatorships that never benefited the citizens.
“We are creditors, not debtors,” say organizers from Jubilee South, arguing that conditions imposed by inter?national financial institutions for loans, as well as years of slavery and colonization, have shifted resources from the citizens of the South to the global corporations of the North.

“The debt really goes against the will of God because it kills thousands of children, youth, and adults who don't have the resources that should stay in their countries,” says Argentine evangelical Pastor Juan Pedro Schaad. Schaad was one of hundreds of religious leaders from 35 countries who participated in a church conference on the debt in Buenos Aires in September.

Also in September, representatives from 39 countries from the North and South met in Havana to discuss the debt and strategies to challenge it. Rafael Correa, former minister of finance of Ecuador, suggested an international debt tribunal, and Jubilee organizers are calling for “debt audits” in both the North and South.

International financial organizations have begun to respond to the pressure. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank recently agreed to forgive the debt of 18 of the world's poorest countries. Debt relief advocates applaud the cancellation, but say it does not go far enough. Jubilee USA is urging U.S. citizens to contact their congressional representatives to get them to support a more comprehensive debt relief bill, the Jubilee Act.

Like other organizers, Debayani Kar of Jubilee USA says it is not just the debt that needs to be challenged, but the current economic model. “The privatization and free trade policies that have weakened the social structures in the South have also hurt people in the U.S., causing poverty and loss of jobs,” she said.
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