|Issue No 105||03 August 2001|
Jubilee Marches On Despite G8 Debt Fatigue
By Thea Ormond
No-one who participated in Jubilee Australia's Drop the Debt March on Sunday, July 22, could be accused of being a fair weather protester.
Against the rain, and against what appears to be "debt fatigue" on the part of the leaders of the G8, 500 determined Debt campaigners formed a memorial procession through the streets of Sydney.
To the slow beat of a drum, people walked, carrying banners, a coffin and dozens of white crosses which stood out against a back-drop of black umbrellas and drizzle in a dramatic scene which impressed the watching crowds. Participants in the March were remembering those who are dying, many of them children, because the global community insists that their governments spend more of their meagre resources on servicing debts than on health. Unlike protests in Genoa, the Sydney based event was peaceful.
They processed from Hyde Park, down to First Fleet Park, where the rally was addressed by the Nigerian High Commissioner, Father Brian Gore and ALP Member of Parliament Tania Plibersek.
Jubilee campaigners this year were advocating for a New Deal on Debt, the centre piece of which would be 100% cancellation of debts owed to the international institutions, the IMF and World Bank. "As key shareholders in the IMF and World Bank, the G8 have a moral duty to make this happen," said spokesperson Fr Brian Gore. "It is appalling that the World Bank and IMF are still insisting on being repaid. This is money tearing teachers and nurses out of the poorest communities in the world."
Despite concerns about corruption, where substantial debt relief has finally come through it has resulted in significant improvements in social indicators. In Uganda primary school enrolments doubled in a matter of months. In Mozambique an extra half a million children have been immunised against killer diseases. The story is similar in South American Guyana.
In the lead-up to this year's summit the leaders of the world's most wealthy nations pointed to the gains made and claimed they could not afford to do more. At the summit, once again they made no new substantial decisions regarding the debts of the most impoverished countries. They dined in luxury and simply reaffirmed the current Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC), and offered an extra US$1 billion to a Global AIDS and Health Fund.
Campaigners continue to point out the inadequacies of HIPC which has delivered an average of only 27% reduction in debt service to just twenty-three countries, on condition that these countries follow structural adjustment programs (SAPs) which in fact hurt the poor. The billion collectively offered by the richest nations to tackle AIDS is the same as was donated by one individual - Bill Gates - and a fraction of what is needed. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan estimates of the amount required is US$7 10 billion.
Hence, the strong statements issued by European Jubilee campaigners who travelled to Genoa. Spokespersons for the World Development Movement accused the G8 of "debt fatigue" and vowed to continue campaigning until all unpayable debt is cancelled. Jessica Woodroffe, Head of Policy at WDM, said "Under-funded gimmicks and empty promises on trade and investment will not make up for their failure to deliver the US$100 billion debt relief promised by the G8 in Cologne. Not a single country has received the level of debt relief it needs in the fight against poverty.......These are the poorest countries in the world. It is obscene that the leaders of the rich world can wine and dine in the splendour of a luxury liner while offering only crumbs in debt relief."
Adrian Lovett, Director of Drop the Debt stated, "The problem is not just the unnecessary scale and glitz of these summits. It is the failure of these leaders to use their great wealth and power to attack poverty for example by cancelling IMF and World Bank debt. These summits should be about direct action by the G8, in the form of meaningful policies which are about substance, not spin. ... African leaders, and those who support them, were the voices of sanity in Genoa."
Locally, Jubilee has managed to get the Australian Government to cancel the A$7 million owed by Nicaragua. We now call on the Government to also write off debts owed by Ethiopia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Nepal and Bangladesh which collectively owe A$510 million. Where there is substantial reason to believe the money would not be used for the poor, we advocate that trusts funds be established. At current rates of repayment a move like this would cost no more than the price of two cappuccinos per Australian per year, but it could save many lives in the countries concerned.
If the determination shown by participants in Sunday's wet weather march is any indication, Sydney can expect to see more demonstrations and continuing action until real progress is made, here and overseas, to lift the burden of unpayable debt off the backs of the world's poor.
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