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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

Why Now?

We are approaching the great celebrations around the new Millennium. The Jubilee is both a time of repentance when injustices are put right as well as the symbolic beginning of a new era. Jubilee symbolizes a fresh start for the poor, an opportunity to reestablish justice and equity throughout the world. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Jubilee was to have occurred every fifty years. It was a time to free slaves, return land to its rightful owners, and forgive debts. Linking this biblical concept to the coming millennium, Pope John Paul II states: “Christians will have to raise their voice on behalf of all the poor of the world, proposing the Jubilee as an appropriate time to give thought.. .to reducing substantially, if not canceling outright, the international debt which seriously threatens the future of many nations” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 51). We see the Jubilee in the Year 2000 as the time for a new beginning for impoverished nations, an opportunity for justice and the solution to the problem of international debt.

It is not only the approach of the Third Millennium that makes this a time ripe for change. Within the last decade, old animosities between East and West have broken down and new, stronger, and wider allegiances between rich nations have developed. The time is right to rectify relations between North and South. Shared economic growth, fairer trading links, increasingly stable political relationships, sustaining the environment - these goals benefit North and South. Development is an expression of the common good.

The international debt remains a serious obstacle to human development. Many impoverished countries are forced to use their scarce resources, including bilateral aid2, to pay their creditors rather than to invest in the health and education of their people. However, through continuous pressure and long-term commitment, civil society organizations and some concerned governments have attempted to reduce the debt of the world's poorest countries. These have made a helpful, yet marginal difference in the lives of people.

In 1996, another possibility for debt relief emerged. The major creditors3 of the world agreed to reduce some debt of the most impoverished countries through the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) Initiative. In doing so, they both acknowledged that debt is a severe obstacle to development and responded to advocacy efforts from civil society organizations. Despite its historic importance, first experiences of the HIPC Initiative reveal that it is far from sufficient.

The upcoming Jubilee, combined with devastating poverty of the least developed countries, the widening gap between rich and poor worldwide, the relative failure of past efforts at debt reduction, and a new opportunity for debt relief, present a challenge we cannot ignore. In the spirit of solidarity among nations and people of the North and South, we have an obligation to promote an authentic and substantial solution to the debt problem.