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Debt Cancellation a Step Forward in Haiti

July 2009


Major Obstacle Removed on the Steep Road toward Justice

As the calendar page turned from June to July this year, so did Haiti’s economic prospects. After years of relentless organizing by a broad range of Haitian and international activists, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund finally relented to pressure and cancelled Haiti’s $1.2 billion debt, nearly two-thirds of the nation’s debt. Grassroots International and our partners in Haiti celebrate this victory and will continue to organize for sustainable and just development.   “The debt cancellation is an important step forward, but only one part of an overall recovery plan that needs to include heavy emphasis on sustainability, especially when it comes to the agricultural sector,” said Salena Tramel, Grassroots International Program Coordinator for Haiti and the Middle East. “Grassroots International remains committed to working with our partners and allies in Haiti to create meaningful inroads to make this happen.”   For the tiny island nation, debt cancellation means big relief. It frees resources to address  the worst economic crises in this hemisphere. Last year, on top of already staggering poverty, Haiti experienced four hurricanes and ravages from the global food crisis.   “What seems clear now is that Haiti is going from catastrophe to catastrophe, and they are getting worse as we go along. And that is a direct result of the destruction of the environment,” said Chavannes Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Baptiste is coordinator of Grassroots’ partner the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP), and also works with the National Congress of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPNKP), another Grassroots partner.   Jean-Baptiste further described the difficult road ahead:   We have witnessed the degradation of the environment. There is less agricultural production, and people are migrating to the cities, creating slums such as those we see in Port-au-Prince. This adds to the urban population and to the demand for wood charcoal. When you see the environmental situation in Haiti today, it is quite grave, and there is a real need to organize.     Nearly half of the country’s debt to international lending institutions resulted from loans incurred during the father/son dictatorship of Francois “Papa Doc” and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Lenders turned a blind eye to their corruption and pumped money into the nation that never reached its people—those bore the brunt of subsequent debt service payments.   Now Haiti and the peoples’ movements there have an opportunity to move forward without the debilitating weight of $1.2 billion of debt on their shoulders. As we celebrate this significant moment, Grassroots International and our partners remain committed to the struggle, knowing that the road ahead is steep indeed.

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