Letter to Congress on Debt Relief, March 24, 1999
March 24, 1999
As Chairman of the International Policy Committee of the U.S. Catholic Conference and as Chairman of Catholic Relief Services, the aid and development agency of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, we write to urge you to co-sponsor H.R. 1095, the Debt Relief for Poverty Reduction Act of 1999. Introduced by Representative James Leach and co-sponsored by Representatives John LaFalce, Douglas Bereuter, Maxine Waters, Barney Frank, Frank Wolf, and Tony Hall, this bill is an effective response to the need of many poor countries around the world for substantial and timely relief from the crushing burden of excessive external debt.
Our interest in the debt problem arises fundamentally from the belief that we are one human family sharing a common human dignity and is rooted in our concern that the human and ethical dimensions of this issue are too often ignored. Our brother bishops, our Catholic missionaries, and church workers in many of the world's poorest countries tell us that debt particularly affects the poorest and most vulnerable, who had no say in contracting the loans but on whom the burden of repayment falls heaviest. We believe the debt problem has caused, and continues to cause, an erosion of human dignity in these countries and we are obligated to act in solidarity with those who are affected wherever they might live.
In the ancient Hebrew tradition, the Jubilee Year was a time to reestablish justice and equity throughout the world. In keeping with that tradition, Pope John Paul II has led the call to celebrate the Year 2000 as a Great Jubilee. He has urged people "to raise their voice on behalf of all the poor of the world, proposing the Jubilee as an appropriate time to give thought, among other things, to reducing substantially, if not canceling outright, the international debt which seriously threatens the future of many nations." (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 1994, p. 51.)
While debt relief is one of many measures needed to solve the problem of international poverty and much of what needs to be accomplished is fundamentally the responsibility of the poor countries themselves, the resources of these countries are limited. Lifting the heavy burden of excessive external debt would remove a major obstacle to attaining sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction for millions.
Debt relief is also in the United States' economic interest. Giving a country a fresh start through debt relief can help make it more attractive for U.S. investment and for the expansion of export markets. Without debt relief, the financial situation of many countries will become increasingly unstable, and prevent their full participation in the global economy.
Substantial programs for debt relief for poor countries are already underway. We appreciate the commendable effort represented by the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, although it needs to be strengthened substantially if it is to solve the problem of poor country debt. We also welcome President Clinton's recent proposal to improve bilateral and multilateral debt relief under HIPC. This initiative may represent a significant step in the direction of the comprehensive debt relief proposed in H.R. 1095. We hope to encourage the Administration to move further in this direction.
As Americans and as fellow human beings we are compelled to act in solidarity with these poor nations. The United States must help them address the causes of poverty, move their economies to a sustainable path of job-creating growth and poverty reduction, and aid in their eventual emergence as self-reliant members of the world community. We believe that H.R. 1095, the Debt Relief for Poverty Reduction Act of 1999, can make a major contribution to achieving these objectives and, we hope you will agree to co-sponsor this pivotal legislation. A summary of H.R. 1095 is enclosed.
Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to hearing from you.
Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick
Archbishop of Newark
Chairman, International Policy Committee
U.S. Catholic Conference
Most Reverend John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Catholic Relief Services