Jubilee 2000, the debt campaign, today celebrated a huge turnaround amongst Republicans as Congress agreed to President Clinton's request for $435 million, and IMF gold sales, to help fund the international Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative (HIPC), designed to reduce some of the debts of the poorest countries.
The $435 million is nearly double what the House approved over the summer and more than five times what the Senate had recommended, and represents a major victory for the Jubilee 2000 debt campaign, a coalition of faith-based groups, unions, development and environmental organisations and star- power from U2's Bono.
Last year, President Clinton's request ($210 million) to cover the US share of HIPC costs was blocked by Republicans on the Hill, and the international debt relief scheme was thrown into jeopardy. Other creditor countries threatened not to put their own money forward, and debt relief to Latin American countries like Honduras became delayed.
Since then, the attitude towards the debt issue in Congress has transformed. Jubilee 2000 has run a targeted campaign through grass roots action and high-level lobbying to present the moral and economic arguments for debt cancellation to fight poverty. In September (see earlier U2.com story) one of Jubilee 2000's most famous lobbyists, U2's Bono, did a whirlwind tour of the Hill, convincing key Senators like Jesse Helms to back the debt relief element of the Foreign Operations Bill.
Ann Pettifor, Director of Jubilee 2000 UK said: "This is a real victory for Jubilee 2000. We have persuaded Congress to give far more resources to debt cancellation than ever before, so that the poorest countries can increase their spending on basic services like health care and clean water. People all over the world are now following the debt issue, and both creditor and debtor governments are being scrutinised: creditors must put up the money, and debtors must use it to fight poverty."
Jubilee 2000 is an international movement, active in 60 countries, calling for the cancellation of the unpayable debts of the poorest countries in the year 2000. Over 20 million people worldwide have signed the Jubilee 2000 petition, making it the biggest international petition ever. Bono has visited Washington DC several times in the last year and twice in recent weeks, accompanied by key Jubilee 2000 strategist Bobby Shriver, working with Senator John Casich, to get the money for debt relief agreed.