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6662: Haiti in life and debt struggle (The Guardian) (fwd)

From: MKarshan@aol.com

Haiti in life and debt struggle 

Impoverished island forced to keep up its loan payments

Debt relief: special report
Jubilee 2000 

Owen Bowcott in Port-au-Prince and Charlotte Denny 
Saturday June 17, 2000 

Haiti hopes that six months from now it will have recovered millions of 
dollars embezzled by the former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier and 
secreted in Swiss banks. It may also launch a prosecution against him in 
France, where he lives in exile. 
But it is not the plundered funds that most preoccupy the leader of the 
poorest country in the Americas. President René Préval - a dapper agronomist 
with a ready smile - is more alarmed by the sums his impoverished country 
must disgorge to repay loans from foreign banks. 

The fact that 40% of Haiti's debt was incurred under Duvalier family misrule, 
when loans were regularly skimmed by regime cronies, reinforces the country's 

Last week in a state reception room, where the sound of traffic grinding 
through the sweltering slums of Port-au-Prince almost drowned conversation, 
he signed a petition calling on international creditors to annul the 
country's swelling $1.2bn (£800m) debt. 

For a Caribbean nation whose independence was achieved through the only 
successful slave revolt in history, the current campaign by the London-based 
organisation Jubilee 2000 to break the shackles of developing world 
indebtness has a strong political resonance. 

Haiti has already signalled its difficulty in meeting interest payments to 
the World Bank. It is not among the countries to receive debt cancellation 
under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. 

"They say our debt is not high enough for relief," says President Préval. 
"But it's one of the reasons for the problems of this country. We need 
cancellation." Outside the bleached, white splendour of the palace, chickens 
amble across the presidential lawn. Haiti is a country of desperate 

In teeming shantytowns, the most basic services do not exist. In the district 
of Christ-Roi, the body of a middle-aged man lay on a rutted track, face up 
with a broad gash to the head. People walked past. 

Amid such poverty, the need for aid and investment is undisputed, but in its 
absence millions of Haitians want simply to escape. "We want to do things for 
the community," said James Joussaint, director of a development association. 
"But people want to go abroad for economic reasons, for better health, better 
education, more security, so their children don't have to work ..." His voice 
trailed off, implying an endless list. 

At home, education is seen as one escape route; private primary schools have 
sprung up all over. Hubert Milhomme, headmaster of Ecole El-Shaddai in 
Arcachon, looks on as his 18-month-old son, Hubens, plays on the floor and 
jokes that one day the boy will be a doctor. 

But even this pillar of the community is dispirited: "The government pays 
nothing toward the school. Not even for a piece of chalk. There's rarely any 
electricity. It gets diverted to the wealthy people in Petionville. Down here 
we suffer from tuberculosis and malaria." He, too, talks wistfully of a life 
in the US. 

The traditional way out has been over the border to cut sugar cane in the 
Dominican Republic, which at one stage last year was sending back 600 
migrants a day. 

The traffic in boat people heading for Miami is reviving - a clear indication 
of declining living standards. 

Four hundred Haitians were found on a Bahamas beach in January after their 
ship ran aground. More than 1,000 Haitians have been sent back already this 
year, according to the US coastguard. Thousands more may have made it to 
Florida - or drowned. 

Last month 10 Haitian policemen disguised as missionaries hijacked a local 
ferry. The catamaran, and its 121 pasengers, was found adrift in American 
waters after the fuel ran out. "We didn't steal the boat," explained one 
policeman, "we stole the destination". 

Colette Lespinasse runs a group for returned refugees. "Sometime the fishing 
boats are too full, there's not enough to drink and they have to throw 
overboard those who become ill," she says. 

"One woman tried the journey four times. She had a young baby who died. She 
was so full of despair, she committed suicide by jumping into the sea." 

Attempts by the outside world to relieve the hunger and suffering have been 
undermined by previous, corrupt regimes, leaving today's inheritance of 
mounting debt. 

Camille Charlmers - who was an adviser to President Préval's predecessor, 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and now runs a development organisation - deplores 
the country's annual repayments of $45m. Jean-Claude Duvalier, he maintains 
"took $900m with him when he left [in 1986] - that's almost the whole debt". 

Trade liberalisation has also done little so far for Haiti. Instability and 
poor government have discouraged western investment, and cheap US rice 
imports have been accused of undercutting small farms in the Artibonite 
valley - the country's traditional rice bowl. 

There are historical prece dents for granting relief for what is known as 
"odious debt". In 1970 Indonesia was rewarded with significant cancellations 
after General Suharto overthrew Sukarno. Debt repayments strike such a chord 
in Haiti because, after the slave uprising of 1791, France demanded 
"compensation" in return for granting independence. It took 100 years to pay 
off 550m gold Francs. 

"Haiti was a financial colony for a century after independence," says 
President Préval, sitting beneath portraits of Toussaint Louverture and 
Jean-Jaques Dessalines, the leaders of the slave insurrection. 

"That is why Haiti is poor and has borrowed so much money. Within six months 
we are hoping to liberate some of Duvalier's funds," he adds. "We are also 
looking at taking legal action in France against him" for human rights 

A year of broken promises

â?¢ A year ago today in Cologne, the world's seven richest countries, the G7, 
promised to write off $100bn of the $260bn owed to the west by the most 
indebted states 

â?¢ The G7 promised that 25 of the 40 countries identified by the World Bank 
and International Monetary Fund as the worst affected would receive help by 
the end of this year - provided lenders were satisfied that the borrowers had 
policies to ensure use of the funds to reduce poverty 

Britain's chancellor, Gordon Brown, promised that 11 would get through the 
programme's hurdles by Easter 

â?¢ By mid-June, five countries have received reductions in debt payments and 
only one, Uganda, is anywhere near having its debts cancelled. The World Bank 
still hopes to get up to 20 countries through by the end of the year, but 
debt campaigners think it will struggle to push 15 through 

â?¢ So far, the west has cancelled $11.9bn worth of debt - most of it under 
agreements predating Cologne. The only extra debt relief since the west 
promised "deeper, speedier" debt relief last year has been an extra $629m for 

â?¢ Though Britain and most of its G7 partners have promised to cancel 100% of 
the debt owed to them individually (most of the money is owed to the World 
Bank and the IMF), Britain is the only one to do so. The other G7 countries 
are waiting until countries fulfil all the onerous requirements of the 
overall debt relief programme before getting out their chequebooks 





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