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Jamaica, entire Third World in bondage to American banks.

I had not anticipated that another visit to the so-called Third World would deepen my guilt and grief at the disparity between the wealth of America and the poverty of the 2.4 million people in Jamaica - as well as the 60 percent of humankind who share the same grinding, dehumanizing poverty.

The contrast struck me full force on my return. U.S. affluence seemed almost shocking.

All the statistics I had acquired about Jamaica seemed to deepen the feelings of anguish I felt for the lovely people of that beautiful island that for some 300 years were exploited by the English who had seized it from the Spanish. One heartrending fact: Each year, Jamaica must pay over $650 million to service its debt to lending entities in developed nations.

Economists and political scientists at the University of the West Indies are busy seeking ways by which Jamaica can extricate itself from the debt bondage which Jamaican leaders incurred in pursuit of market forces in the 1980s. Like most Latin American and African nations, Jamaica's development is impeded and may be made impossible by the drag of its debt.

People in Jamaica ask why some form of bankruptcy for nations is not available. The poor of the Caribbean saw Pan American and Eastern Airlines negotiate or cancel out their debt through bankruptcy. Why is this remedy not available to nations? The oppressed in Jamaica also argue that the practice recorded in the Old Testament of remitting and forgiving all debts every 30 or 50 years should be revised.

Or - in a suggestion offered rarely but with great fervor - why can't the industrialized nations be required to give reparation and restitution to those people in colonial lands whose resources they plundered, whose people they deprived of educational opportunities and whose future is now mortgaged by debts of astronomical proportions?

The depression of Jamaicans is made deeper by the chaos in Haiti 90 miles to the west and the disintegration of Cuba 60 miles to the north. Jamaicans wonder whether any favorable economic future is possible in the Caribbean.

The bishops, in a statement commemorating the peace pastoral of a decade ago, speak of the undeveloped nations with concern and comment that "the United States ... seems almost indifferent ... to the need for significant investment" in the reconstruction of these nations.

My despair at the bleak economic prospects for the people of Jamaica was lessened by the clear knowledge that Jesuits and others on the island have for two generations embraced the preferential option for the poor. Their activities have led to employee cooperatives, schools and scores of parishes all of which have helped Jamaicans to fight the oppression of economic and political structures that operate for the almost exclusive benefit of those who control them.

I felt that the officials and students of the University of the West Indies in Kingston, where I lectured on international human rights, were correct in their views that the leaders of the rich nations - despite the collapse of communism - are not really eager to share their expertise and wealth with those who for centuries were kept down by their colonial invaders.

Will there be, I wondered, mass movements and angry protests by millions of the poor and dispossessed? Will vast migrations of people across land and sea be unstoppable? What will the next generation of people in Jamaica and in a hundred other poor nations do to try to obtain some decency, dignity and equality?

The Catholic church has for a long time been urging economic justice for lands now liberated from the colonial domination of European Christian nations. On Easter Sunday in 1963, Pope John XXIII electrified the world with Pacem in Terris, the encyclical in which he pleaded for aid for the poor nations - aid that should not be "accompanied by any fetters on their independence."

In Mater et Magistra the same pope warned the rich nations not to establish a "colonization of a new kind" masked with freedom but "no less dominating" than the regimes that were withdrawn.

These - and many other - firm pillars of papal teaching came to mind as I finished my two days in Jamaica. When history makes the judgment on what the United States did in the first years after the,cold War ended, will the verdict be harsh? And how will America's 58 million Catholics be judged with respect to their moral leadership and generosity during those years?

The Jamaicans with whom I talked do not think that history's answer will be favorable to the United States. These gentle people feel hurt, betrayed and abandoned. Their plight should remind us of the word of God in Proverbs 21:13: "If you refuse to hear the cry of the poor, your own cry will not be heard."
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Author:Drinan, Robert F.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 17, 1993
Words:798
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