WASHINGTON - May 12 - Jubilee USA Network, the US arm of the global movement for debt cancellation in impoverished countries, released the following statement today:
“Haiti’s massive debt burden of $1.4 billion is both unpayable and unjust, and Jubilee USA Network calls on this odious debt to be cancelled immediately. The newly elected president Rene Preval, who is set to take office this Sunday, May 14, campaigned on a platform of alleviating the misery of the country’s impoverished majority. This majority will not see any benefit from new economic programs without first obtaining 100% cancellation of its external debt. Much of Haiti’s debt was contracted under 30 years of Duvalier regimes, notorious for their human rights abuses and opulent lifestyle financed by Haiti’s poor and by foreign assistance.
“Haitians cannot afford to continue to service their debt burden. In 2005, the Haitian government spent more than $70 million on debt payments, a significant portion of its budget. Yet less than half of the population has access to basic rights such as healthcare, education, and potable water. The World Bank estimates that three-quarters of Haiti’s 8 million people live in poverty; half the population lives on less than US$1 per day. This past Tuesday, Haiti’s newly elected Parliament was sworn in by candlelight, because of persistent blackouts in Port-au-Prince.
“Though the country was added in April to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank’s debt relief program, under the program’s onerous economic policy conditions, Haiti will not see irrevocable debt cancellation for three or more years. Even the World Bank’s optimistic estimates assert that Haiti will qualify for cancellation only in 2009. Policies other countries have been mandated to implement to qualify for initial debt relief and then full cancellation include privatization of water and electricity. Haiti already ‘opened up’ its economy in the 1990’s – its tariffs are lower than the US’s – with disastrous results. Haiti cannot wait years or suffer through more such policies to see its debt cancelled; delays to debt cancellation cost lives.
“The illegitimate origins of Haiti’s debt provide another compelling argument for cancellation. More than half the country’s debt was contracted by the Duvalier family dictatorship (1957-1986). Harvard economist Michael Kremer reports that Jean-Claude Duvalier stole $900 million from the Haitian people. According to a 2006 UN sponsored census, half of Haiti’s population was born after the Duvalier era and forced to carry this debt burden from birth. The Haitian people were not consulted about these loans, and received little benefit from them. But now they are forced to repay them. Such “odious” debt must be cancelled.
“Given the harsh realities faced by the Haitian people today, the people of Haiti need a clean slate to have any hope of meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or achieve sustainable development. We join with Haitian civil society groups in calling on creditors, especially at the IMF, World Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank, to cancel Haiti’s debt, immediately and without harmful economic conditions attached.”