Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 22, 1999
The cry of the poor
CCODP visitor says Peru's poverty grows due to foreign debt
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Cancelling Peru's $30-billion external debt would go a long ways in getting the country out of poverty, says a Peruvian lawyer currently visiting Alberta.
Lucy Chavez, the 1999 Share Lent visitor of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, blames the debt for much of her country's ills, particularly its staggering poverty rate, which has reached the 50 per cent mark.
She said to repay the debt, the government of President Alberto Fujimori is energetically implementing a "structural adjustment program" that affects millions of people.
The program - imposed by the International Monetary Fund - includes deep cuts to social service programs, education, health and housing.
As a result, half of the country's 23 million people now live in poverty, while four million don't have enough to eat. Unemployment is seven per cent while sub-employment is 41 per cent. Thousands of abandoned children roam the streets of Lima, the country's capital.
With a US$30-billion debt, half of which was acquired by the government to buy arms, every man, woman and child in Peru owes about $1,500.
This is an enormous burden for a country where less than 20 per cent of the population can count on a steady salary of about US$100 a month.
This year, for example, the government must pay US$2 billion towards the debt. That includes much of the money Peru earns from exports.
Chavez said unless international lending institutions and the G-8 countries cancel or reduce her country's debt, Peru's poverty rate will continue to grow.
She said Canadians can help Peruvians get out of poverty by signing the Jubilee 2000 Debt Relief petition, which is calling for the outright cancellation of the unpayable debt of the poorest countries of the world.
The petition, now circulating in Peru, Canada and other countries, will be presented to the leaders of the G-8 nations at their meeting in Germany in June.
Chavez said cancellation or reduction of the debt would allow those resources to be directed towards poverty reduction, education, health, housing, roads, electricity and clean water that Peruvians desperately need.