Have a heart, US treasury told on Liberia

By staff writers
4 Feb 2007

A national grassroots campaign mounted by Jubilee USA, the international humanitarian agency, Church World Service (the ecumenical Christian relief network) and allied organizations is urging Americans to send Valentine's Day wishes to US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, asking him to have a heart and cancel Liberia's 3.5 billion dollar debt.

The campaign is targeted to influence decision-making at the 13-14 February 2007 Liberia donors conference in Washington DC. The District's oldest multi-issue think tank, the Institute for Policy Studies, will collect all Valentines cards and messages gathered in the countrywide campaign and will deliver them to Paulson on Tuesday 6 February, it says.

The grassroots effort has appealed to faith houses, community and school groups across the nation to organize and submit the Valentines messages.

After two decades of dictatorship and civil war, creditors expect Liberia to begin servicing its debts at a cost of 80-100 million dollars per year.

Rich country creditors are currently insisting that Liberia make 1.5 billion dollras in back payments and accumulated interest or "arrears" before it can
become eligible for any debt relief or cancellation.

"At that kind of repayment rate," says Church World Service Executive Director and CEO, the Rev John L. McCullough, "it would take literally over a thousand years for Liberia to repay its debt."

Mary Catherine Hines helped lead the Liberia Valentines effort in the Durham, North Carolina area. Hines, Associate Regional Director for Church World Service in the Carolinas, told The Durham News, "Three quarters of [Liberia's] population lives on less than a dollar a day."

She continued: "President Bush and the international community have repeatedly pledgedtheir support and aid to help the country rebuild, but so far they have stopped short of canceling the country's 3.5 billion dollar debt."

CWS' McCullough says Liberia has more pressing needs. "This once-prosperous nation is starting from scratch after ruination," says McCullough. "The United Nation's human development index ranks Liberia among the most impoverished countries in the world."

According to a recent Reuters report, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf welcomed China's decision to forgive the war-torn country's
debt, and asked for the upcoming donors' meeting to follow suit.

Africa's first democratically elected woman president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, now leading Liberia's reconstruction, says having to pay back the 3.5 dollar billion debt makes it impossible for the country to move forward.

Much of Liberia's debt was incurred by the regimes of dictators Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor between 1980 and 2003. Since debt servicing was all but abandoned in the country's recent years of civil war, ballooning back payments and accumulated interest or arrears comprise most of Liberia's current debt burden.

As part of its current multi-programme Africa Initiative, Church World Service has supported peace and reconciliation, trauma recovery, emergency relief and rehabilitation programs in war-devastated Liberia and was one of the lead organizations urging US and world community attention to impending civil war and collapse in Liberia.

Jubilee Network USA is an alliance of 75 religious denominations and faith communities, human rights, environmental, labour, and community groups working for the cancellation of crushing debts to fight poverty and injustice in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The Institute for Policy Studies works with academics and social movements focused on peace, justice and the environment.

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