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Published: 6 Feb. 2010
Washington, D.C.- Michèle Bertol, a Haitian-Canadian member of the global anti-poverty group ONE, handed more than 200,000 signatures to international finance ministers meeting in the tiny arctic town of Iqaluit, Canada today. The petition calls on global creditors to immediately cancel Haiti's $1 billion debt and give the earthquake-stricken country a clean slate by ensuring that new aid comes in the form of grants, not debt-incurring loans.
On Friday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner announced that the United States is committed to working with partners around the world to relieve all debts accumulated by Haiti.
"Haiti needs to focus on its future. It should not be weighed down by outdated debts that were taken on before the earthquake changed the country's course," said ONE's President and CEO David Lane. "As Haiti rebuilds, all assistance should come as grants so resources can be focused on what is needed-infrastructure, health needs, jobs, education-not paying old IOUs. ONE members from all over the world have joined this call to give the Haitian people a clean slate to rebuild. With the United States recent announcement to work with international partners to drop Haiti's debt, we hope the G7 finance ministers will be responsive to this and the signatures of more than 415,000 world citizens to address this pressing issue."
In total with ONE partner organizations Avaaz.org, Jubilee USA and Oxfam International, Bertol also delivered more than 415,000 signatures to Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, host of this week's G7 Finance Ministers meeting.
''The G7 must decide today to cancel Haiti's crushing $1 billion debt," said Avaaz Executive Director Ricken Patel. "If this burdensome debt is not dropped, millions of dollars of public funds will go out of the country, instead of being used to rebuild Haitian lives, homes, roads and hospitals." Avaaz.org, which distributed ONE's petition to its global membership, alone secured more than 180,000 signatures, adding to the campaign's more than 415,000 total signatures among the four organizations.
"I know that ONE has been pushing very hard, lobbying for debt forgiveness for Haiti and I commend you for your work," said Haiti's Ambassador to the United States Raymond Alcide Joseph in a video message supporting ONE's petition. "In June of this past year, about $1.2 billion was forgiven by the international community-that means Haiti didn't have to pay the equivalent of about $50 million a month. But since then, debt has accumulated. With debt relief, the dollars that we would have been paying will go to the development of Haiti. I would like to thank those who have thought about Haiti's debt problem. "
The email petition initially was launched in the wake of the earthquake and is directed to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other international finance ministers, the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and bilateral creditors.
The United States has already forgiven Haiti's past debts and now only gives assistance in the form of grants. Canada also cancelled all its Haitian debt in 2009, and all Canadian contributions to the country's earthquake relief, totaling more than $100 million, is in grants, not loans. In advance of this weekend's G7 meeting, Finance Minister Flaherty urged Haiti's international creditors to cancel the rest of the country's debts.
"Haiti's future must be focused on the priorities of its people, not on the liabilities of its past," Flaherty said. "Our collective goal should be to ensure that Haitians not be required to make substantial debt repayments while reconstructing their nation." (Source: The Canadian Press-Flaherty urges creditors to cancel Haitian debt http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5h49jrErZgJb4qH1KUaKt6P5CzxTQ , 1/27/10)
But Haiti's other creditors, including the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the IMF-all of which the United States, Canada and the other G7 members have major influence with-have yet to forgive all of Haiti's debt.
The debt relief effort has made headway since its launch. The IMF moved quickly after the earthquake to provide immediate financial assistance on the most favorable terms that it has at its disposal, zero-interest loans. The head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has since announced that the IMF would work with all donors to try to delete all the Haitian debt, including debt on its new loan. ONE also delivered the petition to the IMF <http://www.one.org/c/us/pressrelease/3228/> last week in Washington, D.C.
The World Bank also announced a freeze on interest payments, and intends to "find a way forward to cancel the remaining debt." Efforts in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to tackle this issue are moving forward. Taiwan stated it is "studying how to offer debt relief" to Haiti, and Venezuela said last week it will erase its portion of Haiti's debt.
Much of Haiti's debt, $1.2 billion, was cancelled in June 2009 with the support of the international community when Haiti reached "completion point" in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries program. However, the country still has $1 billion in debt on its books. This is because debt relief agreements from the IMF and other creditors only covered debts acquired up until 2004. New loans Haiti has received since then have been adding to its debt. These new loans were taken on based upon assumptions about Haiti's future growth and exports, which were looking especially positive in recent years. Unfortunately, these assumptions are no longer appropriate in the aftermath of the earthquake.
"I was proud to deliver this petition on behalf of ONE, thousands of people around the world, and most importantly, Haiti," said Michèle Bertol, the Haitian-Canadian ONE member who delivered the petitions. "In the wake of this disaster, we need to help the Haitian people in many ways. Cancelling old, un-payable debt is a smart and important first step."
To view the petition, visit http://www.one.org/us/actnow/drophaitiandebt/
ONE is a global advocacy and campaigning organization backed by more than 2 million people from around the world dedicated to fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. For more information please visit www.ONE.org <http://www.ONE.org>
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