Urge Debt Relief for Haiti

We have all watched in horror the images and stories of death and destruction in the wake of Haiti’s January 12 earthquake. And many of us have responded with generosity, giving what we can to the relief efforts: my own UU congregation collected $15,000 in the days after the quake for the UUSC relief efforts. In addition to responding with compassion with relief aid, our Unitarian Universalist faith also demands that we seek justice for the Haitian people in the wake of this tragedy – justice which has been a too small a supply for Haiti for far too long.
A first step toward a just recovery for Haiti is for the international community to cancel Haiti’s debt.
This isn’t just a natural disaster, but a disaster caused by global economics and politics that have resulted in of Haiti’s poverty and environmental damage for years and years. In this small Caribbean country, eighty percent of the population lives in abject poverty. One out of nine children dies before reaching her fifth birthday.
For decades the country was forced to pay out tens of millions of dollars in debt payments, instead of investing the money in building hospitals, schools, or other infrastructure – resources that could have helped in the aftermath of the earthquake.
The debts dated back to 1825, shortly after Haiti won independence from France and abolished slavery. France threatened to reinvade and re-establish slavery unless Haiti paid “reparations” for the loss of the “property”, including slaves, forcing Haiti to pay the equivalent of $21 billion today. This cycle of unjust indebtedness continued through Haiti’s history and included the brutal dictatorships of the Duvaliers. On top of that, harmful economic conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) exacerbated the country’s poverty and path to development.
The Unitarian Universalist Association is member of the Jubilee USA Network, a coalition which worked for years to secure debt cancellation for Haiti. We celebrated last June, when Haiti finally received cancellation of $1.2 billion of its debts owed to the IMF, World Bank, and the US and other governments – a sum equal to about 60% of its total debt.
In the wake of this unimaginable tragedy, one obvious and simple step toward a just recovery is for the international community to cancel Haiti’s $1 billion in remaining debt. And it should go without saying that all of the assistance that Haiti receives should be in the form of grants and not loans. However, yesterday the International Monetary Fund approved an additional $102 million loan to Haiti. While the IMF Managing Director has stated his intention to work for Haiti’s debt to be cancelled, we clearly must keep up the pressure.
Please add your voice to the growing chorus today: Drop Haiti’s Debt Now and No New Debt for Disaster.
In addition, congressional leaders are circulating a letter to Treasury Secretary Geithner with this message. Click here to send a message to your Representative encouraging him/her to sign the letter.
Melinda St. Louis
Deputy Director, Jubilee USA
Congregant All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, DC