Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 28, 1999
Bells ring to wake up G-7 leaders
Rally leaders happy Canada took lead in cancelling Third World debt
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
At 12:30 p.m. on June 17 bells at City Hall and in churches around Edmonton rang in solidarity with the indebted poor of the Third World.
At the same time, about 80 participants at a Drop the Debt rally at Canada Place rang their own little bells for two minutes.
The bells, which rally organizers called "bells of freedom," rang to "wake up" the G-7 leaders meeting in Cologne, Germany.
Apparently the ringing did wake up the G-7 leaders because at their meeting in Cologne they decided to wipe out up to US$70 billion worth of unpaid loans from at least 33 impoverished countries.
One of their conditions is that these countries steer the savings mainly to education and health programs, especially AIDS prevention.
The Canadian government earlier paved the way for the
G-7 decision by committing to cancel the bilateral debts of 30 countries.
Rally participants congratulated the government for its leadership on the issue and called on it to go further by extending debt relief to an additional 20 poorer countries.
The Canada Place rally, organized by the Jubilee 2000 Committee, was part of a world-wide campaign to pressure the G-7 leaders into cancelling the debt of the world's 50 poorest nations.
In downtown Cologne June 19, more than 20,000 people formed a human chain to urge even more relief than was agreed to the day before.
Bob Schmidt, Alberta-Mackenzie animator for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, told the WCR the G-7 leaders should have gone further in providing debt relief.
The Jubilee 2000 Initiative was seeking total debt cancellation for 50 impoverished nations and the G-7 leaders only reduced the debt for 33 countries, Schmidt noted.
"Still, it's a step in the right direction. It indicates the G-7 leaders are willing to look into the issue," he said.
Countries of the South now owe US$2 trillion to northern creditors. For every dollar that goes to the South in the form of loans and aid, at least $3 return North in the form of interest payments.
About 630,000 signatures were collected in Canada for the world-wide petition in support of debt cancellation. The signatures were presented along with millions of others from throughout the world to the G-7 leaders.
At the rally, a drop-the-debt chain was symbolically broken by students from Bishop Greschuk School. Speakers called for outright cancellation of the debt of the 50 poorest countries of the world.
Why should the debt be cancelled? "The best reason is that most of these debts have already being paid for many times over," said Dr. Virginia Cawagas, a professor of education at the University of Alberta.
As an example, she said in the last 15 years in the Philippines the debt has escalated from $26 billion to $58 billion. That's in spite of the fact Filipinos have been paying their debt "religiously" by putting 70 per cent of the country's net income towards debt relief.
According to Cawagas, it will take over 20 years for Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador to recover from the devastation of hurricane Mitch. "Yet these countries pay more than $6 million a day to service their debt," she lamented.
"Poor countries are forced to pay their debts at exorbitant interests and yet many rich countries refuse to pay their own debts."
Cawagas said the United Kingdom alone owes the United States $48 billion "and it refuses to pay." France owes $12 billion and Italy another $3 billion and both countries also refuse to pay.
Forcing poor countries to pay their debts means "more suffering and deprivation" as well as "more conflict" in the world, Cawagas said.
"If we forgive the debt, these monies will be put to better use and there will be less conflict and more stability in the world."