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The money trap.

This month, in Cologne, the G8 summit talks will address the issue of developing countries' debts. Four campaigners tell Sue Wheat why they feel so passionately about the problem and what they will be doing to get people to sit up and take notice

Wangari Maathai, coordinator of the Greenbelt Movement, Nairobi, Kenya

"I feel very strongly about the environment, but the causes of destruction of our local biodiversity are often greed and corruption.

Detached observers tend to over-simplify what they see and hear. They have quick fixes for complex issues. For example, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommend giving state enterprises to private international corporations and promoting export-driven markets from countries which export agricultural commodities whose price they are not allowed to control, and import manufactured goods whose prices they cannot control.

But the issues faced by heavily indebted countries (HICs) are more complex. Even the World Bank and the IMF know that for their stringent policies to be followed, there is a litany of woes left in their wake. Women and children are allowed to die from preventable diseases, the number of street children continues to rise, fewer children attend schools, infrastructure collapses and second-hand clothes from the West continue to be the dominant merchandise in markets once full of local goods and foodstuffs. In the midst of despair, even promising leaders resort to survival tactics like divisive politics and conflicts. Corruption and crime rise and dictators thrive. Therefore, we appreciate that the cancellation of unpayable debts should not be presented as the panacea for all economic, social and political woes of HICs. It is only a prerequisite for the rigorous economic and political policies and interventions which must follow debt cancellation.

In Nairobi we have been trying to save Karura forest, which is vital for the future health of the city. To our disappointment, it is our president, his children and his political friends who have facilitated the privatisation of this and many other forests in the country. Indigenous trees have been harvested, sold locally, and exported by people who are politically connected. This year, we tried to replant trees in the forest but we were stopped by the police and then attacked by hired thugs. Many of us spent days in hospital.

That you have to go to that extent to protect natural resources from the government indicates the level of corruption that we have to deal with. And that's why we are appealing to governments and international financial institutions not to deal with such irresponsible and greedy policy-makers. We feel that it is morally irresponsible both of those who lend and those who borrow. At the end of the day it is the poor ordinary people, especially women, children, and unborn children, who pay the debt. When the poor make up nearly one and a half billion out of the world's six billion people, that's a lot of people who are living in misery."

Susanne Luithlen, event organiser, Jubilee 2000, Cologne, Germany

"Having studied political science, African and development studies, I have become very aware of the problems countries face as a result of debt. It's economically crippling for already underpriviledged groups of society. It is ordinary people in poor countries who suffer from the financial mismanagement and bad investment due to political and/or personal interests of donors and creditors.

I was determined to get this job, coordinating a massive public event to bring about a change in the debt issue. It's a lot of hard work, but I enjoy it. I am organising the logistics of the human chain on 19 June, which will be on both sides of the Rhine and will encircle the Museum Ludwig next to the Cathedral where the G8 heads of state are meeting.

1400 German organisations are involved in the event -- particularly churches and aid agencies. We are expecting between 30,000 and 50,000 people, so it's a huge organisational feat.

Immediately after the human chain's formation we will hand over the debt cancellation petition. It is likely to be the biggest petition ever -- the target number of signatures is 22 million from 50 countries. Our Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, has said that he will accept them on behalf of the G8 representatives.

The new German government, a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens, is more open to the debt campaign than the previous Christian Democrat government under Chancellor Helmut Kohl, but we still feel they are not going far enough, quickly enough. They are still just managing the crises instead of resolving them.

It will be very exciting watching so many people come to be heard by the world's most powerful few. I don't think the G8 will be able to ignore us. We are hopeful that definite steps will be made towards a true solution to this burning problem."

Liana Cisneros, Jubilee 2000 Coalition UK's Latin America coordinator, Peru

"In Peru I can clearly see the effects of debt. We don't have enough medicines or doctors. Peru is spending more than 30 per cent of its budget on debt service and about 2.4 per cent on health.

I think campaigning about debt is the way we can do something that will really make positive changes. Human rights abuse, poor health care and the state of education are all a result of debt.

My job is to facilitate the debt cancellation campaign in Latin America and support all our partners--there are 16 countries to deal with. This January I was working in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, with the Honduran Jubilee 2000 team, preparing the launch of the Latin American campaign.

Peru has one of the strongest Jubilee 2000 coalitions in South America involving the churches, human rights groups, popular groups and professional organisations from health and education. The second strongest movement is in Bolivia and 25 Bolivians will come to join the human chain in Cologne for the G8 Summit.

Supporting these campaigns is very important -- if we want to make changes through the Northern financial institutions and governments, we need to have strong links with the South.

Another big step this year was the first `foreign debt tribunal' in Rio in April. This involved artists, celebrities, lawyers and judges from Brazil who `judged' the President of Brazil on his role in the debt and economic crisis. Brazil has a foreign debt of around US $200 billion and people are suffering a high level of poverty because the government is spending the country's money repaying the debt instead of investing in welfare. This tribunal is an initiative from the South that can be copied by other countries.

I also met Bono this year. He talked about the Drop the Debt campaign at the Brit Awards and wrote an article in The Guardian. We translated it and got it published in El Comercio, a Peruvian newspaper. You can't believe the impact it had! Bono reached the young people we've always found it hard to influence -- so many emailed saying they wanted to get involved. Bono talked about how to get artists involved -- I hope I'll be able to get them to support the campaign."

Audrey Miller, science lecturer, Birmingham, UK

"I'm not a very politically-correct person -- I'm middle-aged, middle-class and from middle England. But I've been campaigning on debt since I came back from working in Malawi with VSO 30 years ago.

I lecture on environmental science and my big `thing' is the damage debt does to the world's environments. I also think that it's immoral that we take this stance against the world's poor. And even if I was rich and greedy, I would also be able to see the economic arguments about the cancellation of debt.

Last year I helped to organise Jubilee 2000's human chain of around 70,000 people around the NEC in Birmingham. It was an incredible event with all ages, faiths, and ethnic groups. One of the most amazing things was having Catholics and Protestant young people from Northern Ireland involved in an event together. It was inspirational, you really got the vibe that things would change.

For the G8 Summit in June we are involved in organising the Debt March of 400 miles from Birmingham to Cologne. Several hundred will be taking part, a core group walking the whole way and others just joining us for part of the journey.

We are taking messages from the religious community and trade union leaders in the West Midlands to Tony Blair on the way, asking him to support cancelling debt at the G8 Summit.

There is a real chain reaction going on amongst the people involved. I know someone who works at BBC Pebble Mill and as a result, Radio 4's The Archers decided to write the campaign into their story line. Now the issue has got off the pages of The Guardian and into the mainstream, which is really important."
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Author:Wheat, Sue
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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