Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Haiti after the earthquake

Now is the time to defy history and finally drop Haiti’s debt

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Aid agencies and NGOs are responding to the devastating earthquake in Haiti with an emergency appeal and are now working with partners to deliver aid. But the task is huge. The delivery of aid to people in desperate need is very slow and there is fear of widespread disease such as cholera and diarrhoea if it is not delivered urgently and sufficiently. That is the challenge facing the international community.

At a time when Haiti has been hit by the worst disaster in its history, it needs long-term support as well as emergency financial assistance, not loans with strings attached, if it is to ever rebuild. Join the call for the full cancellation of Haiti’s debt of over $1 billion, and for all emergency and development funds to be given, not loaned.

It’s shocking: even as aid flows in to Haiti’s desperate communities, money is flowing out to pay off the country’s crushing debt – debt racked up years ago by unscrupulous lenders and governments. The people of Haiti will need more and more and more in order to complete the reconstruction of Haiti. What we’re looking for is a long-term commitment. Haiti needs the massive support of its partners in the international community in the medium and long term. The call for full cancellation of the debt is building steam across the world, and has won over some leaders, but other rich lender countries are rumoured to be resisting. And time is short: G7 finance ministers could reach a final decision next week at their summit in Canada. That is why we urge the British government to support the full cancellation of Haiti’s debt and to continue pledging more money for international development after pledging £10 million to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake almost two weeks ago. The British government under the leadership of prime minister Gordon Brown should be thanked for showing leadership on international development issues, but more needs to be done on this issue to help the people of Haiti rebuild their shattered and ravaged country.

Let’s raise a massive global call for justice, mercy and common sense for the people of Haiti in this hour of tragedy. Campaigners, aid agencies, NGOs and partners will deliver the call for debt relief directly to the summit with a petition organized for the relief campaign.

Even before the earthquake, Haiti was one of the world’s poorest countries. After Haitian slaves rose up and won their independence in 1804, France demanded billions in reparations, launching a spiral of poverty and unjust debt that has lasted two centuries.

In recent years, the tremendous worldwide campaign for debt relief has awoken the world’s conscience. And in the last few days, under mounting public pressure, lenders have begun to say the right things about erasing Haiti’s still-devastating debt burden.

But the devil is in the detail. After the 2004 tsunami, the International Monetary Fund announced relief from debt payments for stricken countries – but the underlying debt went right on growing. Once public attention had faded, the payments were bigger than ever.

It’s time to cancel Haiti’s debt fully and without conditions, and ensure that earthquake aid is made with grants, not loans. A victory now will change lives in Haiti even after the world’s attention has moved on. As we watch the images on our televisions and computers, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed. And the history of rich countries’ relations with Haiti is dark indeed. But moments like this one can bring transformation. Across the world, people have donated to save lives in Haiti. But we also need to raise our voices as global citizens, to address the man-made tragedies that left Haiti’s people so vulnerable to natural crises.

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Jean-Roger Kaseki

is Labour councillor for Tollington ward in the London borough of Islington

2 comments

  • Jean-Roger makes a strong emotional argument for piling loads of money into Haiti and there is no doubt that the people of that devastated country need urgent and prolonged assistance to help their recovery but, unfortunately, pure emotion will not solve Haiti’s problems. Cancelling debt is easy to do but such action fails to address the causes for the debt in the first place. Haiti, like too many countries around the globe, is a failed state with a corrupt and incompetent government. No amount of financial assistance to this failed government will transform the poverty-stricken lives of its people. World-wide voluntary relief donations are already in the billions of $ on top of the on-going UN humanitarian operations (costing billions). Money is not the solution. We know from experience that cancelling debts and pouring money into a country does not automatically mean a better future for its people (look at the number of African and South American states, for example, that have received debt cancellation but have managed to divert the money into private bank accounts). Haiti needs a corrupt-free government and proper democratic accountability (clearly absent for some years). throwing good money after bad is not the solution.

  • I doubt that the British Government will cancel the debt for Haiti.The British were among the first nation in Europe who decided to sabotage Haiti after its independence.

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