Monday, February 08, 2010

  • Molly has reported before on the tragedy in Haiti (see here and here), and especially the campaign to have Haiti's external debt cancelled run by the international development organization ONE. At the recent G7 meeting in, of all places, Iqaluit, Nunavut, the finance ministers of the countries represented agreed to indeed cancel said debt. The mechanisms, however, are unclear , as most of the remaining debt is not direct bilateral loans. It is channeled through international agencies such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the IMF. For an overview of Haiti's external debt see this Wikipedia article.

It should be notes, as you can see from the Wikipedia article that Haiti's debt has been "cancelled" before, most recently in September of last year. Yet , somehow , the debt remained, even if reduced. The September reduction was a reward for what the Wikipedia article calls "economic and social reforms" under the pro-USA President René Préval. This translates, of course, to the sort of "belt-tightening" that never seems to affect indigenous elites, but can have dramatic effects on the ordinary person in countries so "reformed". It also translates into freebies for international corporations and the selling of national resources and sovereignty at cut rate prices. But still the debt remained.

At the same time, interestingly enough , as the hue and cry for debt cancellation was being raised much of the "relief" that was being channeled to Haiti was taking the form of loans from bodies such as the IMF ($102 million). See this article in The Guardian about this hypocritical process. There is no indication that such loans are not continuing. The meeting in Iqaluit was under some international pressure as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez had just announced the cancellation of Haiti's $295 million debt to his country. The statement made by the G7 is, at best, a statement of intent and is not any sort of actual policy for bodies such as the IMF or the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

What's the danger here ? Last September the cancellation of debt applied only to debt incurred before 2005. Loans in the subsequent 4 years continued as debt, and the IDB continued to issue such loans. The danger is that, as Haiti fades from the headlines that any cancellation will be only a partial cancellation of loans incurred before a certain time, leaving Haiti still in the chains of indebtedness. Especially if the so-called "aid" is delivered by means of loans rather than as grants. Loans that are given only when concessions are granted. See the Guardian article for more detail.

Thus the following article from ONE may be an example of premature rejoicing. Time will tell. Not that it is likely that all of the Finance Ministers would be so conniving as to issue such pronouncements in full realization that it may not be all that it seems. I doubt that they would all be likely to micromanage their affairs so thoroughly, but it is not beyond belief that at least some of them would be fully aware of the history of aid to indebted countries facing natural disaster and would quite willfully stop a little short of the full truth. In the case of Canada's Finance Minister perhaps ten thousand dinosaur steps short of veracity.

In any case here is at least partially good news from the ONE people about the campaign mentioned here before.

A big win‏
Fabulous news for a Monday... thanks to you, (Molly participated in this though only as one of the 400,000 people who signed and publicized the petition )we’ve won global commitment to cancel Haiti’s debt. Here’s the latest from this weekend...

Your signature was one of 400,000 delivered to the G7 finance ministers meeting in Canada by ONE member Michèle Bertol, a Haitian Canadian living in the small arctic town of Iqaluit (the G7 can run but they can’t hide, ONE members are truly global!). More than 200,000 ONE members signed the petition and a further 200,000 signatures came from our friends at Avaaz, Oxfam, and the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

While in Iqaluit, Canadian Finance Minister James Flaherty announced that all G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US – have agreed to cancel Haiti’s debts. Exactly what we were hoping for.

You can learn more and share your thoughts on this victory with other ONE members on the ONE Blog:

Though the process isn’t complete yet( As I say above-Molly ), I’m confident that we’re on track to see full cancellation of Haiti’s debt. It looks very much like Haitians will receive the clean slate they need to start to rebuild.

Thank you so much for making this happen. Moments like this remind me of why this work matters and just how powerful we can be when we act together. I look forward to seeing what we can achieve next.
Yours indebted, er, but not in debt...Roxane Philson,

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