The international Jubilee campaign to have governments cancel debts by the world’s poorest countries made sudden and unexpected headway late last year.
In December, Finance Minister Paul Martin announced that Ottawa would allow 11 poor countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America to stop repaying their $700 million debt to Canada.
The Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative collected 640,000 signatures demanding debt cancellation, and worldwide the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which began in Britain, collected 24 million signatures.
In Canada, John Dillon of the Jubilee Initiative applauded Mr. Martin for the move, but added that overall it would not amount to much, since Canada is owed less than one-half of one percent of impoverished country debt.
In Britain, the Jubilee 2000 coalition hailed a decision by that country to forgive interest repayments on debts owed by the world’s 41 poorest countries. Britain also promised to hold all debt payments it receives in trust for poverty relief in poor debtor countries. The British announcement is worth $30 million (U.S.) a year.
The 41 poorest countries, most of them in Africa, are working toward the eventual cancellation of their $2.3 billion debt to Britain.
The Jubilee movement wound up at the end of the year, but the work will continue in other forms.
The Canadian group said it will continue to press Mr. Martin to extend his action to multilateral creditor institutions, which hold most of the poor countries’ debt. Mr. Dillon also said that Jubilee Initiative wants the onerous structural adjustment programs (SAPs) ended and unconditional cancellation of bilateral and multilateral debts of the world’s poorest countries .
In Britain, Jubilee Plus – a long-term global support unit for campaigns on international debt and finance – began this year. Also planned is Drop the Debt, a short-term initiative focused on next July’s Genoa summit of the Group of Eight (the leading Western industrialized nations plus Russia.)
Ann Pettifor, director of Jubilee 2000 UK, also wanted debt relief packages to reach beyond the 41 poorest nations, to include countries like Nigeria and Peru. Jubilee 2000 was launched in the U.K. in 1996 to cancel unpayable debts of the poorest countries by the year 2000. In four years it has forced the debt issue to the top of the international economic agenda.
To date, only about a third of the targeted $300 billion (U.S.) is scheduled for cancellation by creditor nations and multilateral lending agencies.