Pope's delegate and bishops' conference call for cancellation of Third World debt

 

The Pope's spokesman on Third World debt joined the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference in calling for the cancellation of unpayable debt by the year 2000.

Archbishop Oscar Rodriguez, who has been asked by the Pope to act as the church's spokesman on its jubilee in the year 2000 and on the debt issue, yesterday met the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, to discuss the matter. He also met the President, Mrs McAleese.

Archbishop Rodriguez said that external debt for poor countries was not only a matter of economics. It was a problem which "oppresses the future and hope of millions of people". In his native Honduras, he said, a third of all export revenues went to service the national debt.

"The people are paying £1 million a day in interest. On October 30th last year, the worst day of our tragedy in Honduras, the government paid over £40 million as a result of the debt."

Launching the bishops' statement at a press conference in Dublin yesterday, the Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, Dr Raymond Field, said the "debt burden remains one of the most significant obstacles to social and economic progress in some of the poorest countries in the world".

He said a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa were enslaved by foreign debts, many of which were incurred over 20 years ago with the encouragement of western financial institutions. The original amount had been repaid, but interest had brought the external debt of developing countries to close to £1.5 trillion.

The bishops supported the Jubilee 2000 signature campaign organised by the Debt and Development Coalition, he added. This campaign is collecting signatures to a petition calling on the world's richest states to cancel the unpayable debt of the world's poorest states.

Ms Jean Somers of the Debt and Development Coalition said that while Ireland was not owed debt by developing countries, it was a member of international institutions which were.