Campaigners Deliver Petition for Haiti’s Debt Cancellation

Campaigners Deliver Petition for Haiti’s Debt Cancellation

debt cancellation in Haiti because of extreme poverty

WASHINGTON –  Today Jubilee USA Network delivered a petition signed by nearly 3,000 Americans to the US Treasury Department urging US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to support immediate debt cancellation for Haiti when he meets with other G-8 Finance Ministers later this week – from June 13-14 — in Osaka, Japan.

“As Treasury Secretary Paulson joins other G-8 leaders in Japan this week, we call on him to support immediate debt cancellation for Haiti,” said Neil Watkins, National Coordinator. “Thousands of Americans have spoken out and said that it is unacceptable for Haiti to continue to pay $1 million in illegitimate debt payments each week to the World Bank and other institutions while the people of Haiti suffer.”

Haiti is facing a crisis: The price of staples like rice, beans, flour, and corn have almost doubled in the past six months, and Haiti has seen riots and even killings over food.  The price of fuel has also skyrocketed, leaving small businesses unable to cope, and emergency boats without gas enough to address crises at sea.  During the second week of April, as many as five people were killed during the food riots.  On May 12, eleven people (including five children) were found dead after an overcrowded ferry capsized off the Haitian coast.

While grant assistance from USAID and international financial institutions is important, debt relief is a critical additional component to help provide additional resources to the Haitian government to respond to the crisis. Haiti is currently in the final stages of the World Bank/IMF Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) but is not expected to reach completion point until late 2008 at the earliest. Haiti is scheduled to pay over $50 million this year, more than a quarter of its spending on public health. Advocates argue these funds would be better spent on food, health, and other social services.

Leading religious and development advocates urged ministers to take concrete action in Osaka – to use their voice and vote at the multilateral development banks to achieve immediate debt cancellation for Haiti – and a moratorium on debt payments for other fragile states most heavily impacted by the global food crisis.

Statements from Political, Religious Leaders and Development Advocates on the Debt Crisis in Haiti:
Rev. Jesse Jackson, who led a delegation of 24 religious and civil rights leaders in early May to Haiti stated, “We want this debt canceled and the people relieved of its burden.  That money can be used and invested in roads, schools, bridges, health, houses and education.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) a senior Member of the House Financial Services Committee,, said: “The people of Haiti are literally starving today.  Meanwhile, Haiti is sending approximately $1 million each week in debt service payments to the World Bank and other creditors, money which would be better spent to fight hunger and poverty. While I appreciate that the international financial institutions and the United States are providing loans and grants, this is simply not enough so long as Haitians continue to starve.  I call on Treasury Secretary Paulson to do everything in his power to provide immediate debt cancellation for Haiti.  We cannot in good conscience accept payments from Haiti at this time of desperate need.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said, “Releasing Haiti from its onerous debt will allow the country to feed its own people and rebuild its struggling economy without the burden of diverting its scarce resources.  Haiti is scheduled to pay approximately $50 million dollars in 2008 – funds that could be better spent addressing the current food crisis and helping Haiti recover from years of economic, environmental, and political turmoil. I recently authored an amendment to the Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation, which unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives, supporting the immediate cancellation of Haiti’s international debt.  The U.S. House of Representatives has spoken; it is now time for our global leaders to make sure that this struggling nation receives the assistance it needs to put itself on a sustained path towards development.”

Dr. Paul E. Farmer, Founder of Partners in Health, said: “Every day in Haiti we see the distal effects of the government’s crippling debt to international financial institutions in a lack of clean water, good roads, schools with no hidden fees, access to adequate nutrition, and scarce medical resources. The burden of hunger and disease continues to grow, advancing unnecessary suffering and increased mortality; the recent food riots are only one symptom of the chronic and inevitable underfunding of public sector social support in a country so constrained by its obligation to foreign banks. We urge Treasury and the G8 to immediately engage in canceling Haiti’s debt and debt repayments, so that the Haitian government can use its income to support those who need it most: the Haitian people.”

Mary Ellen McNish, General Secretary of the American Friends Service Committee said: “While the global food crisis is devastating the well-being of Haitians, causing riots and acute hunger, the Haitian government must continue to pay more than $1 million a week in debt service when it could be financing a return to local food production, subsidizing basic foodstuffs and investing in health care.  I urge the U.S. Treasury and the G8 to place an immediate moratorium on Haiti’s debt service during this crisis so the government can guarantee the right to food for all Haitians.”

Brian Concannon Jr., Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, said: “Much of the $1 million a week that Haiti sends to the IDB and World Bank is for loans made to the Duvaliers and other corrupt and brutal Haitian dictators. The Haitian people received little benefit from these loans, but Haiti’s poor are now forced to repay them by eating mud pies, dying of easily treatable diseases and not learning to read.”

Emira Woods, Co-Director, Foreign Policy In Focus, Institute for Policy Studies, said: “Thirty years ago, Haiti produced rice, enough to feed its citizens and even export to regional markets. Haiti also was a leader in livestock production.  Rice production and much of the agricultural sector was decimated in the 1980s by the structural adjustment programs of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.  Today, Haiti is gripped with a crippling food crisis.  Haiti is also forced to service debt to the very institutions that precipitated the problem.  These funds siphoned off to international bankers could instead be going to feed the people and rebuild the agricultural sector. Haiti’s has repaid its debt many times over.  There couldn’t be a better case for complete and total debt cancellation.”

Dr. Mark Schuller, Vassar College, said: “Haiti’s debt is unjust.  According to international institutions’ own accounting, millions in aid went to Duvalier’s death squads and personal accounts.  Following 1986 after Duvalier’s ouster, and again in 1990 following Haiti’s first democratic elections, these institutions should have made the Duvalier dictatorship foot the bill.  Instead, they forced the poor majority in Haiti to pay for it… every time I return to Haiti, I learn of someone’s death from lack of access to health care.  Cancelling Haiti’s debt could not only double the funding for health care or education, but it will release Haiti’s government and people from the constraints that are keeping Haiti from being able to define its own development priorities and future.”