Religious and secular groups support US Congress bill for global debt relief

By staff writers
January 30, 2007

While ‘culture wars’ in the United States absorb much media attention, a campaigning coalition which brings together religious and secular groups is working to ensure that January 2007 marks not only the beginning of a new year but also a fresh push to eliminate the debt crippling impoverished nations.

Jubilee USA is using 2007 to advocate far-reaching debt relief for poor countries, making the point that the money owed was often loaned by multilateral institutions and banks for their own interest – and that it is a continuing noose around the necks of the most vulnerable.

The network, part of a worldwide campaign, has timed its campaign to coincide with a fresh biblical Sabbath year, which calls for debts to be forgiven once every seven years. The last Jubilee year was in 2000.

Two members of the US Congress, Maxine Waters (Democrat, California) and Spencer Bachus (Republican, Alabama) plan to introduce a bill that would require the Treasury Department to advocate for debt cancellation at the IMF and World Bank.

They stress that they are working across boundaries of political conviction, as well as religious and non-religious opinion.

"The World Bank and the IMF basically work on the principle of one dollar, one vote," said Jubilee USA spokeswoman Kristin Sundell. "As the largest contributor to the IMF and World Bank, the US has a very strong, controlling share of the vote."

The bill calls for debt cancellation for every country that needs additional funds in order to meet the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. The campaign is supported by the Episcopal Church and other members of the National Council of Churches USA, as well as evangelical groups.

Spencer Bachus, who sponsored the bill during the last session as well, is a strong advocate for debt relief. Although the bill never made it out of committee in the previous Congress, it may find more support with the new Democratic leadership, analysts say.

"Being concerned about people without health care, educational resources and infrastructure resources is part of most major religions' reason for being," said the Rev Stan Duncan, a pastor with the United Church of Christ in Massachusetts and leader in the Jubilee USA movement.

Jubilee USA was formed in 1997 to campaign for debt relief in the year 2000. The world-wide movement of which it was part resulted in substantial bilateral debt cancellation between countries. But campaigners acknowledge that there is a huge mountain to climb to achieve justice for poor nations.

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