Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 25, 1999
Debt campaign feedback positive
70,000 Canadians sign petition to G-8 leaders
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Canadians are reacting positively to a campaign for cancellation of the debt of the developing world.
Since the campaign began in October, nearly 70,000 Canadians have signed a petition urging the leaders of the G-8 nations to cancel the debt of poor countries.
The campaign of the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative, a coalition of churches and inter-church agencies, is part of an international effort aimed at debt relief for the world's most impoverished countries by the year 2000.
"We've been very surprised and pleased with the positive reaction that people have had," Jubilee Initiative national coordinator Patricia Hayward said from Toronto.
"People understand the devastating effects the debt crisis has had in the developing world. They want to correct this injustice."
About 45 countries desperately need debt relief. Together they owe US$2 trillion to other countries, banks and financial institutions. Calculated per capita, each person in the South owes about US$300 to the North - much more than a year's wage for many.
There is no international bankruptcy law so poor countries continue to spend the bulk of their income to repay their debts, thus depriving their citizens of the basic means of life. "Canadians are saying, 'this isn't just,'" Hayward said.
The United Nations Development Program in 1997 stated that 21 million children's lives could be saved if the money used for debt service was put into health and education.
The Jubilee Initiative aims to gather 400,000 signatures by March 31 and Hayward said the goal will be met.
Working on the campaign are individuals, Church congregations, and social justice, women's and labour groups.
The Canadian petitions, together with petitions from 80 other countries, will be presented to the leaders of the G-8 nations in Germany in June.
The international jubilee Initiative is aiming for 22 million signatures worldwide. One and a half million signatures were already handed over at the G-8 Summit in May 1998.
The regional office of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace in Edmonton has received only 500 signatures so far.
But that doesn't worry animator Bob Schmidt because most parishes are talking about the issue and inviting parishioners to sign the petition after Mass.
"Many parishes are either just doing them now or they are hanging on to them in the hope of getting more signatures before the March 31 deadline," he said.
Schmidt said people are showing interest in the campaign because debt is an issue they can relate to very easily.
"Everybody has been in debt at some point in their lives so they understand what it means. When people realize what the issue is they see immediately that it's a serious problem for those countries and that it should be cancelled."
The fact the campaign is an ecumenical activity also helps, he said.
The Jubilee 2000 campaign is inspired by the scriptural tradition of jubilee, whereby every 50 years debts were forgiven and slaves set free, and "liberty is proclaimed throughout the land."
"The jubilee year for the ancient Hebrews was one of forgiveness, one of recreating within society correct relationships between people," noted Schmidt.
"We have in today's world a great disparity between rich and poor and this is a tremendous opportunity to correct those imbalances, to correct those injustices."
Pope John Paul has also suggested that the jubilee is an appropriate time to think about reducing substantially, if not cancelling outright, the international debt.