Victory for Haiti Debt Cancellation!

By Hayley Hathaway 2-08-2010

For those of us who work for social justice, victory can seem elusive. But then there are times when we mobilize at the right time with the right message and our leaders cannot help but listen and respond.

This weekend was one of those times.

Last week I wrote explaining that Haiti's $700 million debt to the international financial institutions must be cancelled as an urgent step in recovery and as a matter of justice.

In the wake of Haiti's catastrophic earthquake, people of conscience in the U.S. and around the globe mobilized to call on our leaders to do the right thing for Haiti. On Friday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner responded to that call, announcing: "Today, we are voicing our support for what Haiti needs and deserves -- comprehensive multilateral debt relief."

I couldn't agree more. On Saturday, the news got even better when the Group of Seven (G7) finance ministers announced that they agreed with him -- Haiti wouldn't have to pay back its debts.

This is truly a victory for Haiti, where massive debt payments have long forced the country into underdevelopment.

This is also a win for debt campaigners and people of faith and conscience around the world. Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Treasury Secretary never would have uttered what Geithner said on Friday. It would have been considered crazy to cancel Haiti's debts to help it recover. Debt was sacred; countries had to pay their debts before anything else -- before clean water, education, or health. Yet thanks to a growing call from people of faith around the world who believed in scripture's vision of debt cancellation and restoration of right relations between nations, the Jubilee movement was born. In 1999, 70,000 people made a human chain in Scotland calling for debt relief. Leaders responded with the first global comprehensive debt cancellation plan.

This weekend, the Jubilee vision manifested again in hundreds of thousands of petitions sent by Jubilee USA, ONE, Avaaz, and Oxfam to the Arctic Circle at the G-7. Again, our leaders listened.

To date, over $100 billion of debt has been cancelled in dozens of countries to help fight poverty and injustice. Dozens more need debt cancellation right now. Haiti's victory this weekend is one part of a larger struggle to create a world where countries no longer have to get into debt to feed their people, where democratic governments don't have to pay debts from colonialism or brutal regimes. To Mr. Geithner I say, Well done. And we still have more work to do.

In the coming weeks, as the snow in D.C. melts, as the Secretary returns to his comfortable home, and the immediacy of Haiti's need fades off the pages of the newspaper, let us lift up Haiti's debt cancellation as an important step for the country and for world. And continue to turn the Jubilee vision into a reality.

Hayley Hathaway is operations & communications coordinator for the Jubilee USA Network.

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