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Last year witnessed a shower of 11th-hour victories for the Jubilee 2000 campaign to free the world’s poorest nations from the yoke of staggering debt. And after a $435 million boost from ex-President Clinton, the grass-roots campaign that saw Pope John Paul II rhetorically linking arms with Republican Senator. Jesse Helms and rock musician Bono is working to sustain that momentum.

“One of the biggest obstacles we face now is that people think the debt was all canceled,” said David Bryden, outreach coordinator of Jubilee 2000/USA–now known as the Jubilee USA Network. “The progress made so far is important, but we still have further to go.”

Much of the foundation was laid last November, when Clinton signed a $14.9 billion foreign-aid package that included $435 million to help erase debt owed by about 30 of the world’s poorest nations to the U.S., the World Bank and other banking institutions. That allotment partially fulfilled a 1999 agreement between wealthy countries to provide about $100 billion in debt relief for Laos, Benin, Cameroon and 38 other low-income countries by the end of 2000.

Clinton’s move echoed similar last-minute action from other wealthy nations, including Germany, China, Britain and Italy. But work remains. Congress still needs to set aside $375 million to fulfill the rest of its commitment to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries agreement, said Bryden.

“We want Congress to appropriate the entire sum this year; we shouldn’t wait to do it in an incremental fashion,” Bryden said. “We’ll be watching closely to see if Bush’s budget proposal includes that money.” Campaigners asked supporters nationwide to send valentines to the secretary of the Treasury, asking him to appeal to Congress to act quickly on the issue.

Debt repayments also remain a millstone for some 19 countries that meet the 1999 agreement’s terms for debt relief but were left out of the end-of-year largess. “High debt payments are a major obstacle to poverty reduction in many countries,” said David Beckmann, president of the Christian antihunger group Bread for the World. “Money that should be spent on schools and rural roads and things like that is used to pay off debt. Some countries spend more on debt payments than health care and education–that’s not right.”

Debt-burdened nations excluded from the 1999 agreement still need help, Bryden said. “We need to take a look at countries that were left off the agreement,” he said. “We also need to look at some of the lower-middle-income countries like Peru and Ecuador because they are often forgotten. They are not the poorest of the poor, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t suffering there because of the debt.”

Campaigners also hope to erase some conditions that often accompany debt relief packages. For instance, those conditions which require state-owned assets be sold to private entities not only impose unfair restrictions on struggling economies, but also open the door for corruption, said Tim Atwater, northeast regional coordinator for the U.S. debt relief campaign.

This Financial Services article was written by Christian Century, on 6/1/2005

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