Cover Image
close this bookPutting Life Before Debt (CI - CIDSE, 1998, 38 p.)
close this folderPART I: Debt and Jubilee
View the documentWhat is International Debt?
View the documentA Catholic Framework on Debt
View the documentWhy Now?
View the documentHow did the debt crisis come about?
View the documentImpact in the South

What is International Debt?

Many people have borrowed money to buy supplies, equipment, or a house. Countries do the same. They borrow money from private capital markets, international financial institutions, and governments to pay for infrastructure such as roads, public services, and health clinics; to run a government ministry; or to purchase weapons. Like individuals, countries pay back the principal and interest on the loans they take out. But there are important differences. If a person borrows money, he or she receives the money directly and pays it back according to the terms and conditions of the loan. But if a country borrows money, the citizens are not necessarily notified or informed of the purpose of the loan or its terms and conditions. In practice, many governments have used loans for projects that do not meet minimum standards of social, ecological, or even economic viability. At times, these loans have been used to enrich a small group of people or have been transferred out of the country to the private bank accounts of government officials.

A second difference is that a business or person who cannot meet his financial obligations over time goes bankrupt. A court is appointed to assess the debtor's situation and banks acknowledge that the debtor cannot fully pay his or her debts. But countries cannot file for bankruptcy - there is no such procedure, no arbitrator. At the international level, the creditors, not a court, decide whether and under what conditions to require the debtor country to pay its debt.