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Published on Friday, April 14, 2000 in the Los Angeles Times
Third World Debt Relief Is the Right Thing to Do
by Maxine Waters
 
In Niger, Zambia and Nicaragua, government spending on debt service payments is greater than government spending on health and education combined. Tanzania spends four times as much money on debt payments as it does on health and education combined. These are some of the world's poorest countries, and their governments are being forced to make drastic cuts in basic services such as health and education in order to make payments on their debts.

Debt relief for the world's poorest countries is supported by a movement known as Jubilee 2000. This worldwide movement was begun by Christians who believe that the 2,000th anniversary of the coming of Christ is a Jubilee year. According to the Bible, the Lord instructed the people of ancient Israel to celebrate a jubilee--a year of the Lord--every 50 years. During a Jubilee year, slaves were set free, land was redistributed and debts were forgiven.

Relief from debts is desperately needed by many poor countries throughout Africa and Latin America. Debt relief will give these countries a fresh start and improve their ability to serve their people. Supporters of Jubilee 2000 now include a diverse group of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religious groups, development specialists, labor unions and environmental groups. These activists know that forgiving the debts of the world's most impoverished countries is the right thing to do.

Many of the debts owed by poor countries were accumulated during the Cold War, and many are the result of loans to corrupt dictators who are no longer in power. The debt of Congo was accumulated during the oppressive rule of Mobutu Sese Seko. Nigeria's debt was accumulated under the authoritarian rule of Gen. Sani Abacha. Nicaragua's debt was accumulated during the dictatorship of the Somoza family and the subsequent civil war. It is unjust and immoral to expect the impoverished people of these countries to pay back these debts.

Debt relief also is an excellent investment for the United States. A relatively small appropriation of funds can leverage millions more from other creditor governments and international financial institutions. Without American leadership, however, there will be no debt relief.

Last year, the Clinton administration proposed a multiyear debt relief package totaling $920 million in appropriations spread over a five-year period. That is a very modest amount of money for a country that spends about $5 billion every year in foreign aid to just two countries--Israel and Egypt--and spent $289 billion on defense last year alone.

Earlier this year, the administration requested that a mere $210 million for debt relief be included in the supplemental appropriations bill for fiscal year 2000. But that bill ultimately included no funding for debt relief. Republican leaders of the House prevented me from amending the bill to restore this funding. At the dawn of a new millennium, it is time to proclaim jubilee and cancel the debts of the world's poorest countries.

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Maxine Waters (D-los Angeles) Is a Member of the House Banking Committee

Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times

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