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
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.