|Home | About Us | Contact Us | Advertising | www.fsu.ca|
|Saturday, May 18th, 2013|
> Monday, February 1st, 2010 > Opinion > Faith Meets Life: Forgiving Haitiís debt
Faith Meets Life: Forgiving Haitiís debt
Click here to read more Interrobang articles written by Michael Veenama
Published: Monday, February 1st, 2010
Itís incredible to think that in a few seconds perhaps 200,000 people died in the Haiti earthquake. From a radio interview of a geologist I learned that there is a fault line running through the country. The tectonic plates that meet at the fault are moving a few centimeters every year in opposite directions. According to the geologist there had not been any quakes for about 250 years to accommodate the sideways motion of the plates. The rock strata in the plates had been bent like heavy springs ready to snap. And suddenly, on a January 2010 day, they did. The plates shifted about four metres bringing down buildings on top of thousands of Haitians.
Today millions of dollars are being raised to help the survivors and hopefully to rebuild Haitiís roads, schools and hospitals. But the future may not be very hopeful for the country unless another problem is addressed. Haitiís economy, like the pre-quake fault line, is ready to snap.
According to postings on the Avaaz website, Haiti is struggling under an enormous financial debt. Avaaz is urging people to sign a petition for the forgiveness of this debt of $1 billion. Is that a good idea?
After Columbus ďdiscoveredĒ the island on which Haiti sits, the Spanish annihilated the native population. Haiti itself was formed when Spain ceded the western half of the island to France. The French colony became wealthy from the sugar and forestry industries, but the price for that prosperity was very high: massive importation of slaves and the degradation of the environment. In 1804 the population overthrew its slave owners and Haiti became the first black republic.
From there, things have not gone well. Throughout its history Haiti has been plagued by political violence and is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. All this according to the website of the C.I.A.
Avaaz claims that corrupt leaders and unscrupulous moneylenders from the worldís rich countries, saddling the population with that billion-dollar debt, have bamboozled the people of Haiti. The C.I.A. website states the estimated Haitian debt was well over a billion dollars at the end of 2008 and now sits around half a billion. If I understand the information correctly, servicing the debt annually was costing about twice as much as the value of Haitiís yearly exports. Happily for Haiti, $525 million of the national debt was forgiven in 2009.
This would mean that the $1 billion figure Avaaz claims as being the national debt is high, and it might be as low as half that amount.
Nevertheless, why not forgive the debt? There is a time for everything - as one writer of the Jewish and Christian Bible said, and as Bob Dylan once sang - including national debt forgiveness. Half a billion dollars is chicken feed for any Western national economy, and forgiveness of the debt, if it were coupled with a compassionate and sound strategy for renewing Haitian society, would send a signal of hope.
Itís true that some of us have pension plans and other investments that may be tied to global lending institutions. In that case, we might see some reduction in our dividends if Haitiís debt is forgiven. But if any such dividends are due to come my way, I donít want them.
If Haitiís debt is forgiven, it should be an unconditional forgiveness Ė no strings attached that will come back to kick the Haitians and make the rich richer. Debt forgiveness may not cure Haitiís problems. The country may remain incredibly poor as it has been for many decades. But the debt should be erased anyway. At this stage signing the petition is the right thing to do.