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A People’s History of Debt Cancellation


If there is one thing Howard Zinn has taught me – and to his credit (and despite not ever being a student in one of his classrooms) he has taught me a lot – is that when progress is made, when victory – even those compromised by reality – rears its head we should look to the People, and not just the leaders, for who to congratulate.

In this case it is the countless thousands – if not millions – of folks who made up Jubilee USA. We do owe thanks to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) for introducing the bill but – there is always a "but" – this would not have happened if it were not for the tireless efforts of the faceless.

What a welcome surprise it was to pull up CommonDreams.org and see that the House of Representatives will likely pass H.R.2634 Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation of 2008.

Hopefully the Senate and President follow suit (and other foreign governments too!).

If they do we should make sure that history records the real heroes.

Even more importantly, hopefully this translates into substance so those suffering the wrath of economic exploitation can have those pains alleviated.

In the mean time look at this from SEC. 1627 from the legislation:

(a) In General- The Secretary of the Treasury shall commence immediate efforts within the Paris Club of Official Creditors, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), and the other international financial institutions (as defined in section 1701(c)(2)), to ensure that debt cancellation is provided to eligible low-income countries (as defined in section 1626(h)) without any conditions except requiring the government of such a country to—

(1) take steps so that the financial benefits of debt relief are applied to programs to combat poverty (in particular through concrete measures to improve economic infrastructure, basic services in education, nutrition, and health, particularly treatment and prevention of the leading causes of mortality) and to redress environmental degradation;
(2) make policy decisions through transparent and participatory processes;
(3) adopt an integrated development strategy to support poverty reduction through economic growth, that includes monitorable poverty reduction goals;
(4) implement transparent policy making and budget procedures, good governance, and effective anticorruption measures;
(5) broaden public participation and popular understanding of the principles and goals of poverty reduction, particularly through economic growth, and good governance;
(6) promote the participation of citizens and nongovernmental organizations in the economic policy choices of the government; and
(7) produce an annual report disclosing how the savings from debt cancellation were used, and make the report publicly available and easily accessible to all interested parties, including civil society groups and the media.

However, the defining of "eligible low-income countries" could prove more problematic:

(h) Eligible Low-Income Country Defined- In this section, the term `eligible low-income country’ means a country—

(1) that is eligible for financing from the International Development Association but not the World Bank, and does not qualify for debt relief under the Enhanced HIPC Initiative (as defined in section 1625(e)(3)) and under the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative;
(2) that has transparent and effective budget execution and public financial management systems which ensure that the savings from debt relief are spent on reducing poverty;
(3) the government of which does not have an excessive level of military expenditures;
(4) the government of which has not repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism, as determined by the Secretary of State under section 6(j)(1) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (50 U.S.C.

So while a welcome success may be at hand there is still much work to be done.

I want to close by going back to the part that really gets me excited and my blood pumping. I am speaking about the requirement to "promote the participation of citizens and nongovernmental organizations in the economic policy choices of the government." This is certainly something we, in the first and second world, could benefit from as well.

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