In Pope Francis’ message for the 2016 celebration of World Peace Day on January 1, he asks that leaders of nations “forgive or manage in a sustainable way the international debt of the poorer nations…” This is an important issue, especially for many island nations.
Highly indebted island nations, located in the Caribbean and the Pacific, are burdened by debt obligations that impede their ability to foster economic development, reduce poverty, and provide adequate social services. These island nations include Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica and St. Kitts, among others. In each of these countries, the Catholic Church, along with ecumenical partners, has been actively engaged in addressing both the causes and the consequences of debt, while championing the human rights and the common good of affected populations.
The human consequences of high levels of indebtedness can be very severe. By requiring a high percentage of their national income to be devoted to the servicing of foreign debt, little is left over for investments in infrastructure, education, or health.
Not only does this put at risk the economic growth and development of the country, but it may also lead to severe deprivations in nutrition and medical care for the affected population. One hears, for example, of nations with such inadequate water systems, due to disrepair, that mothers are forced to offer their children bottled soda rather than risking their children the exposure to the dirty and polluted water they face in the local water systems.
As Pope Francis said when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in September, “The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.”
Inspired initially by the call of Saint Pope John Paul II for Jubilee 2000, the global Jubilee movement aims to influence worldwide decision makers, including the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, to promote poverty reduction and advance solutions to international financial problems.
USCCB has long stood in solidarity with the Church in the Caribbean, as well as with the work of Jubilee USA, in alleviating the debt burdens of highly indebted nations.
For this reason, my colleague Dr. Stephen Colecchi, Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace, and I attended a recent conference in Grenada hosted by Jubilee. The commitment of the Church in the Caribbean regarding this issue was evidenced by the participation of a number of prominent religious leaders, including Catholic bishops from Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, and St. Kitts, as well as the Apostolic Nuncio to these nations.
There we discussed strategies for effective debt relief, as well as greater level of financial accountability and administrative diligence on the part of the borrowing nations. Participants urged lending institutions to assure that loans are structured in ways that make successful development and repayment possible.
The religious leaders at the conference agreed to establish a formal structure of consultation and advocacy throughout the Caribbean region to address on a systematic basis the concerns of these highly indebted nations.
The efforts of these religious leaders, including Catholic bishops and other Christian leaders from the Caribbean, deserve support, including here in the United States.
USCCB will continue to pursue and support energetically these important endeavors, thereby expressing solidarity and providing support for both debt relief and poverty reduction.
Richard Coll is a policy advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Learn more information about the USCCB’s position on debt relief.