Cancel Haiti’s Debt, for Christ’s sake…

Certain institutions and individuals have profited off third-world poverty and misery for so long that…

No, wait.   Let me start with the good news.  The United States (God bless us) has already forgiven its own Haiti debts, and in July of last year, some international organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, as well as some Paris Club creditors, agreed to cancel over $1 billion of the country’s debt.

But that still leaves a crippling burden of another 1  billion which this most impoverished nation in the hemisphere will never be able to repay as it starts again rebuilding “from below zero” after January’s apocalyptic earthquakes.  So there’s a movement afoot to get the remaining creditors (the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and countries like Taiwan and Venezuela) to cancel the rest.  And here are two petitions you can sign to help in this movement:

Finance ministers etc:  Cancel the $1 billion debt & make future aid to Haiti is in the form of grants.
Treasury Secretary Geithner:  Please use your influence to help achieve the above goals.

Remember, most of Haiti’s debt was racked up during the cruel and corrupt dictatorial regimes of the Duvaliers (unelected torturers propped up by moneyed foreign interests we won’t name just now.)  And as is so often the case (see Chile post-Pinochet, Argentina post-Dirty War generals) the victimized populations, just when they find themselves free of the tyrannies that have enslaved, tortured and murdered them for decades, are forced to pay back hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of debt racked up by their tormentors, money that often disappeared with them and their dirtbag families to safe foreign havens.

One of the great, long-term crimes of the late 20th century, documented most thoroughly and memorably in Naomi Klein’s masterpiece The Shock  Doctrine, was the way international lenders like the IMF and World Bank would constantly – especially just after some natural or man-made disaster – offer a huge loan to a desperate third-world government – a loan they could never hope to repay but also could not turn down – on the strict conditions that they undergo what the lenders themselves called economic “shock therapy.” This always included cutting all popular social services, privatizing and selling off all public assets (Hello Arnold & OC Fair) and opening up the nation to unregulated foreign investment and exploitation. Since these policies are universally unpopular with the populations in question, they generally require a despotic government to carry them out, or at the very least, sneaky-ass undemocratic processes. (Hello, Arnold & OC Fair!)

The IMF’s first reaction to this Haiti earthquake was, indeed, to offer another huge loan with strings attached… but then they had second thoughts and made it a grant.  This, in combination with their partial forgiveness last July of Haiti’s debt, make us think the unthinkable: are we seeing new, praiseworthy behavior? Naomi hopes so.

The Jubilee movement – so named in honor of the Judeo-Christian tradition (in both Old and New Testaments) of erasing debt each seventh year – the “Year of Jubilee” – has been pressing for years now for the erasure of Third World debt, and they give many compelling reasons for this call.   Much, in some cases all of the principal on these debts has been repaid, but crippling interest rates keeps these nations in debt forever and prevents them from investing in their own people and economies.  And the bankers and investors who make these loans, well, they will continue to get along swimmingly as they always have, Jubilee or no.

The full Jubilee idea may be too radical for you.  But Haiti had been making great progress in recent years in the fight against poverty and injustice, and has now suffered biblical misfortune.  So if debt cancellation is called for anywhere it’s there, and now.   Rather than having decades more of misery and refugees on our doorstep, let’s call a HAITIAN JUBILEE!

Sign those petitions.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.