Campaigners unimpressed by 'debt forgiveness' for developing countries

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Campaigners for the abolition of developing countries' debts are unimpressed by the latest announcements that appear to indicate that the debts of eighteen of the world's poorestas some sort of gesture of goodwill.

The real situation is well explained by George Monbiot's article in the (UK) Guardian, and Éric Toussaint of the Campaign to Abolish Third World Debt.

Organisers of the protest demonstrations which will greet the coming gathering of the G8 in Scotland said that “the latest announcements are a big retreat from promises to Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs), aimed at 42 countries, made in Lyon 1997 and Cologne 1999. Bush and Blair both have deep pockets and short arms when it comes to helping Africa. Anything promised, this time to just 18 countries, is conditional on certain measures, all too familiar to activists everywhere. As George Monbiot quotes from the finance ministers' statement, developing countries must "tackle corruption, boost private sector development" and eliminate "impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign". So there you have it. A Structural Adjustment Programme under a different name, aimed at 18 places at once.”

Find out about the planned protests and parallel events here

In the Netherlands, too, campaigners have reacted with underwhelming enthusiasm. Calling the move nevertheless a “step in the right direction” Socialist Party development spokesman Harry van Bommel questioned why it was confined to eighteen countries and said that he was “extremely sceptical regarding the manner in which this is to be financed. It seems that it will be at the expense of existing development budgets, which could mean that these countries will be paying, albeit in a different way. Above all we shouldn't forget that as long ago as 1999 the leading industrial countries, meeting as the G7, recognised the need for this and in fact took the decision then to write these debts off. This is therefore no more than the logical consequence of that decision, a filling in of the details.”

Mr Van Bommel emphasised that the decision in its present form to write off the debt offered no structural solution to the problem. “In order to ensure that the indebted countries don't simply get into debt again, development aid must be increased and barriers to trade from these countries lifted. Only then will we see a truly structural approach and only then will we really get closer to achieving the Millennium Goals.”

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