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72 Members of Congress Urge World Bank to Cancel Haiti’s Debt

February 27th, 2009

Debt Cancellation Will Help Haiti Avoid National Collapse, Give Fragile Democracy a Chance
A bipartisan group of 72 US Representatives called on World Bank President Robert Zoellick late yesterday to immediately suspend all scheduled debt repayments from Haiti and grant complete debt cancellation to the impoverished nation. Haiti currently sends $1.6 million to the World Bank every month while thousands of Haitians starve and the nation struggles to fill a severe budget gap that threatens the struggling democracy’s stability.

The letter to President Zoellick was circulated by US Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) as well as Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA) and Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee. The Representatives express deep concern about “the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Haiti and the difficulties Haiti has faced in qualifying for the cancellation of its debts.” “We understand that Haiti is scheduled to send approximately $20 million to the World Bank in 2009,” the letter reads, “Clearly, this money would be better spent on basic infrastructure and poverty reduction for the Haitian people.” Signers include 72 US Representatives from across the political spectrum, including Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Donald Payne (D-NJ), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA).

Download a PDF of the letter from Members of Congress to World Bank President Zoellick

“After enduring four tropical storms last summer on top of an escalating food crisis, Haiti must now contend with the fallout of the global economic meltdown. It is outrageous to ask Haiti to wait one minute longer for debt relief under these circumstances,” said Neil Watkins, Executive Director of the Jubilee USA Network, a coalition of faith-based, development, human rights and community organizations working for debt relief for all impoverished countries. Jubilee members encouraged their Representatives to sign on to the letter.

“If Robert Zoellick wants to give Haiti a chance, he should start by unconditionally canceling Haiti’s debt,” said Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. “Haiti’s debt is not only unconscionable, it is unjust- today’s Haitian citizens are literally starving to pay back debts that the Banks made to yesterday’s Haitian dictators.”

Haiti will be eligible for substantial debt relief upon completion of the IMF and World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) program. The Banks improperly left Haiti out of the original HIPC in 1996 for political reasons. The country was accepted into HIPC in 2006, but Haiti’s efforts to catch up have been hindered by economic policy conditions imposed by the IMF and a string of natural disasters, economic shocks, and political unrest.

Earlier this month Haitian President René Préval appealed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for immediate financial assistance, describing a $100 million budget gap that he said could throw Haiti into anarchy. Haiti can expect to be severely and negatively affected by the recent downturn in the economy of the United States. Not only does the United States serve as a valuable market for Haiti’s exports, Haiti is also heavily dependent on remittances from Haitians living in the United States, which dwarf international assistance.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate are a founding member of Jubilee USA. Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of 75 religious denominations, faith communities, development agencies, human and worker rights organizations, and environmental groups building the political will for poor country debt cancellation and more responsible international finance to fight global poverty.

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