From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Presbyterians help retool Jubilee debt-relief effort
21 Feb 2001 09:14:28
Note #6391 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
Presbyterians help retool Jubilee debt-relief effort
Renewed campaign will address AIDS treatment, social and economic justice
by Evan Silverstein
DENVER, CO -- The Presbyterian Church (USA) is again among those who are
calling on governments and international lending institutions to forgive the
staggering debt of poor nations.
Three PC(USA)-related officials gathered with about 75 other ecumenical
representatives and social-justice organizers last weekend to help determine
the future path of Jubilee 2000/USA.
Presbyterians played significant roles in the coalition's much-publicized
Jubilee 2000 campaign, which helped compel politicians and world banking
ministers to forgive millions of dollars of debt owed by some of the poorest
countries on Earth.
The initiative to "bury the debt" was affiliated with a worldwide Jubilee
movement that seeks a debt-free new start for the world's most impoverished
countries at the start of the new millennium, so that there would be more
money for desperately needed social services.
"I really see the Presbyterian Church staying very committed in the struggle
to get the debt canceled," said Melanie Hardison, a PC(USA) staff member who
coordinated the denomination's Jubilee 2000 effort and sits on the
decision-making body of the new campaign, which is building on last year's
anti-debt platform. "I think the network that we've built in the church,
which really reaches across a lot of constituencies, will be very active.
People will be mobilizing around the country. So I think the initiatives
that have been happening will continue, and the new stuff will certainly
keep them ... motivated and mobilized."
Hardison has been working since September as a member of the campaign's
transition team, helping to formulate a new structure for the initiative,
which focuses on social and health-care related issues more than Jubilee
2000 did. She was joined for three days of meetings in Denver by Karen
Fritsch, moderator of Presbyterian Women (PW), and DeLaina Gumbs, an intern
in the denomination's Women's Ministries program area.
"I feel like we're really moving forward and everything is on track,"
Hardison said at First Unitarian Church, where most of the proceedings were
conducted. Denver is the city where the Jubilee 2000/USA campaign began in
Originally, Jubilee 2000 was conceived as a time-limited campaign focusing
only on cancellation of debts of the world's poorest countries by the end of
the year 2000. The idea was based on the Old Testament book of Leviticus,
which describes a Year of Jubilee that comes once every 50 years, during
which slaves are freed and debt is canceled.
While the level of debt forgiveness exceeded expectations, members of the
Jubilee 2000 USA Steering Committee, meeting at year's end with grassroots
activists and other supporters from across the United States, decided to
continue working long-term toward "definitive debt cancellation" and to
address agenda items that were unfinished.
A transition team of eight grassroots representatives and six members from
the existing Jubilee 2000/USA Steering Committee, including Hardison, came
together last September to formulate a long-term vision for the national
bipartisan coalition of religious, labor and social-justice groups. It
determined that debt cancellation would remain its first priority; that it
would broaden its membership; and that it would seek more input from
partnering groups on Jubilee's policies and strategies. In addition to
staff, the Jubilee USA Network includes three elements: a network council, a
coordinating committee and working groups.
"At the meetings here this weekend, our goals are three-fold," said Larry
Leaman-Miller, a Denver resident and area program coordinator for the
Colorado chapter of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a
national Quaker organization made up of people of various faiths who are
committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service.
"One, to kind of get an update on the state of debt-cancellation efforts
worldwide, where it stands, where the debate is. Secondly, to do some
reorganization of the Jubilee Network so that we're more broadly inclusive;
and thirdly, to work on some strategies about how we're going to continue
working on these efforts."
Other groups represented at the meetings included 50 Years Is Enough: U.S.
Network for Global Economic Justice, Bread for the World and the Mennonite
Central Committee (MCC), as well as representatives from the United
Methodist Church and a number of Catholic orders. Jubilee USA officials also
agreed to consult on policy and campaign positions with Jubilee South, a
coalition of individual debt-relief campaigns in Latin America, Asia and
Africa. Also represented was Drop the Debt, a London, England-based campaign
targeted to win a "New Deal on Debt" for the poorest countries by this
summer's G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy.
"It feels very much like a movement," said Leaman-Miller. "To have all these
people here from various states and countries."
The PC(USA) has a long history of involvement in debt-related issues. In
1989, the General Assembly (GA) approved a document called "The Third World
Debt Dilemma," on which the denomination's policy was based. Seven years
later, the GA called on governments, lending institutions and commercial
banks engaged in international lending "to strive to insulate the poor of
indebted countries from the costs of debt payment, and to consider seriously
debt forgiveness or debt relief for the most heavily indebted and poorest
Throughout the 1990s, debt relief was a major focus of the Presbyterian
Hunger Program, a channel for Presbyterian response to hunger-related crises
around the world. In the past four years, the program has spent nearly
$70,000 of its public-policy-advocacy funds on Jubilee-related activities
"The Presbyterian denomination really has been the heart of this from the
very beginning in supporting Jubilee 2000 and being very active," said Dan
Driscoll-Shaw, a former Maryknoll priest who served as coordinator of the
Jubilee 2000/USA initiative. "Frankly, the Presbyterian Church has been one
of the most open and creative to say, 'We're here and we're going to move
with this,' and that's really important."
The 1998 Presbyterian GA specifically supported the Jubilee 2000 campaign,
and a year later the commissioners upheld the denomination's commitment to
debt cancellation. As part of the cause, Presbyterians sent hundreds of
letters to federal lawmakers and followed up with visits to Capitol Hill,
held Jubilee-related programs on the congregation and presbytery levels, and
turned out in force for many national Jubilee programs and demonstrations,
such as a peaceful rally last April in Washington, D.C. In 1999,
Presbyterians participated in a nationwide "rolling fast," refusing to eat
for one day as part of an effort to raise awareness of Jubilee 2000.
Moreover, the Rev. Walter Owensby, a former PC(USA)Washington Office staff
member, helped develop key debt-relief concepts that became part of the
foreign-aid bill that President Clinton signed into law on Nov. 6, which
includes a $435-million installment on a global effort to erase as much as
$90 billion owed by impoverished nations, most of them in Africa.
"Presbyterian Women have been very interested in this," said Fritsch, the PW
moderator and a resident of Silverthorne, CO, about 75 miles west of Denver.
"One of our main concerns now is racism and global racism, and the debt is a
systemic thing, it just feeds right into it. "
Participants in the weekend meetings also signed off on a revised name for
the group -- the Jubilee USA Network -- and approved several major
initiatives for the campaign to pursue:
* Dropping the debt/Genoa -- A short-term initiative held in conjunction
with Jubilee campaigns around the world, focusing on the G8 summit of
finance chiefs from the world's richest nations in Genoa, Italy this July.
Jubilee USA and allied groups will urge participating governments to press
the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to forgive debt
directly instead of having member nations put up their own money to cover
* Debt and AIDS -- Aimed at eradicating debt and making AIDS-related
medications more readily available in impoverished countries. The sexually
transmitted disease is rampant in many highly indebted nations, particularly
Network officials said the introduction of AIDS-related drugs have
dramatically reduced mortality rates from the disease in wealthy countries,
but has not changed the course of the disease in poor nations, whose
residents can't afford high-priced AIDS drugs.
"Even if Brazil, for example, can produce AIDS-prevention drugs, it's still
too expensive for people to buy, because of the debt having impacted
social-services funding," said Pat Rumer, a member of the Jubilee 2000
transition team from Portland, OR. "There aren't public-health funds in poor
countries to purchase these drugs, even if they're produced at a much
* "Illegitimate"/"odious"/"criminal debt" -- Jubilee officials charge that
existing debt-relief initiatives do not appropriately address "odious" and
"illegitimate" debts, those that are "patently unjust in nature" because
they were incurred by repressive and corrupt regimes. This will be one of
the primary focuses of the new campaign.
Rumer said loans made in the 1970s to dictators in Africa and Latin America
are "immoral" and "illegal," because they were not made to "democratically
elected governments, or the people."
As interest rates soared dramatically during the 1980s, the IMF and World
Bank in many cases renegotiated the loans with private banks, Rumer said,
worsening the debt burden. To repay these loans, countries were forced to
borrow even more money, which they will never be able to pay back.
"You're asking people who were never consulted to pay back a debt incurred
by an illegitimate government," Rumer said. "Both the creditors and the
debtors have a responsibility in this, and we consider (the loans)
* User fees -- Builds on legislation approved last year by Congress,
prohibiting fees for health- and education-related services in "heavily
indebted poor countries" (HIPC). The network wants Congress to approve
similar language prohibiting fees for water in corporate water-privatization
projects. Such fees would severely damage rural communities and poor urban
neighborhoods in the world's poorest countries, according to Joanne Carter,
a representative of RESULTS, an international advocacy network affiliated
with the Jubilee campaign fighting to end hunger and poverty. She said 12
countries in sub-Saharan Africa are scheduled to implement policies
privatizing water supplies.
* U.S. appropriations -- Pressing congress to approve $375 million over the
next two years in order to fulfill the United States' commitment to
international debt relief.
* Debt and trade -- A long-term goal of bringing about a more just global
economic justice system.
"It's looking at the linkages in what debt means in relationship to trade,"
said Rumer. "There are groups working on trade, but we have not yet
developed a consistent strategy to bring the debt-cancellation movement
together with trade and the long-term goal of creating a more participatory
and just economic system."
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