Iraqi Debt Cancellation

On my other hard drive (thanks to the collecting spirit of Tom Wills) I have a film made in the late 40s by the US government to promote the Marshall Plan. It spells out the need for America to support the redevelopment of Europe for fear that otherwise new generations will grow up fueled by resentment, becoming terrorists. I thought it a sadly ironic statement when I first watched it in 2002 and with each viewing that sense has increased.

The cancellation of 80% of Iraq’s international debt (that’s $31.1 billion) is to be welcomed, even if it’s something of a surprise that that figure is not 100%. Given that there has been so much condemnation of the corruption of the previous regime it would seem to me that the creditor nations would want to wipe out any evidence that they lent money to it. And I would express disappointment at the inclusion of the standard “completion of an International Monetary Fund economic programme” clause if I could imagine the “election” of a government in Iraq who would propose an alternative approach. But nevertheless, 80% is significantly better than nothing.

Where the irony strikes again is the timing of the announcement relative to the publication of Christian Aid’s new report. Taking a look at the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, the report is timed to coincide with a new study from UNAIDS that highlights the increasing severity of that pandemic. As the BBC report, Christian Aid argue that antiretroviral drugs alone will not solve the crisis.

As Dr. Rachel Baggaley, head of Christian Aid’s HIV unit comments in the BBC report: Poverty is one of the key drivers of this epidemic. Unless we tackle issues of trade, debt and the lack of trained health care workers, we cannot begin to win the battle.

International debt is one of the lynchpins of poverty. For many years the power that debts provide to creditors have been used to impose policy on poor countries, and the struggle to pay back those debts within the boundaries of that policy have prevented governments from investing in the healthcare and education that would aid them in the fight for stability and provide trained personnel to ensure the HIV/AIDS crisis can be met head on by local people.

Perhaps it’s time someone made another of those films. We face those same dangers today, and we are seeing the results of a failure to spread the Marshall Plan more broadly. Recent moves on HIV/AIDS have been a beginning, but what will it take to persuade this government of the wisdom of their own sixty-year old film.

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