FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 20, 2008
WASHINGTON, DC -- Organizations working for healthcare, justice and economic stability in Haiti called on World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick to announce the unilateral cancellation of Haiti’s debt during his visit to Haiti on Monday, October 20. Haiti’s cash-strapped government currently sends the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank over $1 million per week to repay loans, over half of which were given to Haitian dictatorships.
The World Bank announced that Mr. Zoellick’s visit will “emphasize the Bank's strong support for the country.” Mr. Zoellick added: "Haiti must be given a chance. The international community needs to step up to the challenge and support the efforts of the Haitian government and its people."
“If Robert Zoellick wants to give Haiti a chance, he should start by unconditionally cancelling Haiti’s debt,” says Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. “Instead the World Bank- which was established to fight poverty- continues to insist on debt payments when Haitians are starving to death and literally mired in mud.”
Haiti did become eligible for the World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative in 2007, after it had been excluded for years over political wrangling. But earlier this month HIPC announced that the likely date for Haiti to actually receive relief has been put back six months to the “first half 2009.”
“After four hurricanes in a month and an escalating food crisis it is outrageous that Haiti is being told it must wait six more months for debt relief,” said Neil Watkins, National Coordinator of Jubilee USA Network.
“Haiti’s debt is both onerous and odious”, added Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners In Health. “The payments are literally killing people, as every dollar sent to Washington is a dollar Haiti could spend on healthcare, nutrition and feeding programs, desperately needed infrastructure and clean water. Half of the loans were given to the Duvaliers and other dictatorships, and spent on Presidential luxuries, not development programs for the poor. Mr. Zoellick should step up and support the Haitian government by cancelling the debt now.”
“Unconditional debt cancellation is the first step in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Haiti,” according to Nicole Lee, Executive Director of TransAfrica Forum. “There is also an urgent need for U.S. policy towards Haiti to shift from entrenching the country in future debt to supporting sustainable, domestic solutions for development.”