Cancel the debt
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 28 January 2010

I was going to write about something else. In fact I'd already written it and was about to hit the send button, then I read this from American journalist Amy Goodman, who has just come back from Haiti, on her Democracy Now broadcast.

“We sat and watched as doctors came from Denver Children’s Hospital performed this amputation that, in most cases, would have been unnecessary if the patient had received care at the beginning. The number of amputations without anaesthesia—now, let’s remember that it’s not only amputations, but it’s all operations.”

Reading about people getting their arms and legs hacked off without any anaesthetic makes the subtle manoeuvres of Estonian politicians seem kind of trivial.
Estonian politicians are angels compared to another group of people, international bankers.

This destroyed nation owes international banks about a billion U.S. dollars. Most of it to the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the IMF and 387 million dollars to Taiwan and Venezuela.

And what is the bankers' reaction to images of children dying under piles of rubble?

“WE STILL WANT OUR MONEY BACK”

The World Bank announced on 21 January that it doesn't expect Haiti to pay back the money for another five years. In other words they want the money back.... eventually. The IMF on the other hand wants its money right now, though it has agreed to waive interest payments.

The Haitian people can't afford to pay. Even the president is homeless, the last report I heard he was hanging round the airport. Before the disaster the entire Haitian economy was 11 billion dollars. In other words 10 percent of the Haitian economy was owed to the banks. Right now the Haitian economy is worth nothing.

The nerve of the banks is incredible. Haiti owes to the World Bank, 38 million dollars, a tiny fraction of the overall debt and a nano-fraction of the World Bank's liability.

They should write off the entire debt? They should, but they won't, unless you make them.

The earthquake is no-one's fault, it's just an act of God or nature. Its a disaster of biblical proportions. It is worse than the Tsunami. Never in recorded history has an entire nation been destroyed. A hundreds years from now people are still going to remember it. It is the work of the devil.

But this natural disaster has been compounded by man-made cruelty.

Haiti was founded by rebellious slaves who killed their slave masters and set up their own nation in the early 19th Century

If Haiti is the poorest country in the New World, this is largely because for the past 200 years, first France and then the United States have conspired to make it so.

Most debtor nations got into trouble in the 1970's. Haiti has always been in debt. In 1825 France use gunboat diplomacy to get 150 million francs (21 billion dollars in today's money) as compensation for the loss of its slave colony.

It was this factor more than anything else that retarded the development of the Haiti in the 19th and early 20th Century.

The Americans took over island in the 1930s. Not wanting the island to be ruled by black people, this was the 30's after all, they imposed a cruel ruling class who proceeded to ravished that nation for the next 70 years.

The worse of these were the Duvalier family who for three decades stole aid and bank money which they then sequestered into personal bank accounts or squandered on grandiose vanity projects. Michele Duvalier famously took a 20,000 dollar shopping trip to New York in the 80s.

To be fair to the Americans they built most of infrastructure that existed in Haiti, the roads the telephone lines and the public building. That infrastructure has now been destroyed.

At the time of writing approximately 200,000 people are missing presumed dead, another 250,000 are injured and another 1.5 million are homeless. Most are destitute. That is the equivalent of everybody in Estonia. You've all seen the images of people camped out of the street; of bodies buried under rubble, of people roaming the streets with machetes looking for food, water, medicine. It's almost too much to bare.

Those of you who have read my columns know I always write about local matters. But with this story that is nothing much I can do. This is the story I had to write.

I was worried that the story was time-sensitive but it's better to have this article published some time after the event to remind people that Haiti is still suffering.

I don't feel comfortable mentioning this, I will give my fee for this article to Haitian disaster relief. Somebody pointed out to me that mentioning this might motivate other people to also give money.

Some of you may feel that there is very little Estonia can do since it is so far away geographically and culturally from Haiti.

I agree with those people who believe it's the responsibility of French and Americans to sort things out. They have caused this situation thorough centuries of rapacious behaviour.

But Estonia can play a role, that shouldn't be understated. If a country as culturally and geographically remote is helping out, that will shame other countries to do the same. It's good to note that the help is coming not just from the Estonian government but from private industry and private individuals. Tallink, despite the troubles they are facing, are planning to send a ship to Haiti. Many other people have given money.

It must be embarrassing for Haitians. I'm sure they have pride. Nobody wants to be a charity case much less a whole country. I'm embarrassed by it, hurt by it, angry about it, here's a black country in an awful situation asking the rest of the world for help.

You can help even if you contribution is non-monetary. Join a campaign or sign a petition for Haitian debt to be cancelled. At least look into the matter. I loath telling people what to do, but this is one time I feel I must.

This in the long run might help the Haitian more than any money that you can give. It's something everyone can do over and over again whereas if you give money it tends to be a one off.

I am sure many readers have problems with their own bankers. They are not the world's favourite people. So this shouldn't be hard.

This really is a way you can make a difference. If the whole world, even people in as far away place as Estonia are screaming from the top of of their lungs CANCEL THE DEBT!! the banks just for once might listen.