Dropping Haiti's Debt
In a move that proves that, when pressed, Congress can act quickly, both houses of Congress passed legislation aimed at relieving Haiti of its debt. The Haiti Debt Relief and Earthquake Recovery Act (HR4573) was passed by the House of Representatives last week, after the Haiti Recovery Act (S2961) was passed by the Senate on March 5th. Both bills, as this Huffington Post article describes, instruct the Secretary of the Treasury use American influence "at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)...to accomplish the debt forgiveness" for Haiti. In a press release from JubileeUSA, Deputy Director Melinda St. Louis noted, "the passage of both debt relief bills in Congress shows that our leaders on both sides of the aisle can respond quickly when the call for justice is heard loud and clear." Even after receiving initial debt cancellation in 2009, Haiti still has $1 billion of debt to pay off, much of it "for loans granted to Haiti's dictatorships, especially the brutal and corrupt Duvalier father-son dictatorship," according to JubileeUSA.
Though images of devastation in Haiti are no longer on the front page of every newspaper and website, the rebuilding process is just now getting off the ground. Meeting with Haitian President René Préval Wednesday, President Obama pledged "to remain committed to providing financial assistance and humanitarian relief," though the number of military personnel stationed in Haiti is steadily decreasing. As Haiti prepares to release its rebuilding plan, US officials are taking a look at how to help in the coming months. Cheryl Mills, chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has said that the US will likely "pick several areas on which to concentrate, probably including agriculture, health, security and energy," mainly based on the Haitians' own rebuilding plan.
While Haiti appears to be on the road to debt relief (and it has been a long road - read up at Jubilee USA's website to learn more about Haiti's history with debt relief), many other countries also need debt relief to get back on their feet as well. The Jubilee Act (HR4405) would expand debt relief eligibility to 65 countries. The Jubilee Act encourages government transparency - countries receiving relief must make policy decisions democratically - and frees up much needed funds for social services: the bill Act requires that 20% of a relief-receiving country's funding must go towards poverty alleviation. Urge your Representative to co-sponsor the Jubilee Act and break the chains of debt!