number 5, december 9, 1998

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Human chain to cancel debt

By Patricia Lefevre

Shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, some 300 assembly participants ringed the Great Hall yesterday afternoon, creating a human chain and chanting "cancel the debt," as delegates emerged for their afternoon tea break on Tuesday.

While assembly youth initiated the demonstration, many of those taking part were grey-haired.

"It’s economically, politically, morally and legally advisable to cancel the debt," said P.C. Alias, professor of economics at Kerala University, in India.

He lamented that one third of every rupee collected in taxes in India goes to service the nation s debt. This means that development aid, education and medical care all are short changed, he said.

"Unless the debt trap is removed, India can’t survive," Alias warned, adding that his nation is "exhausted" from carrying its debt burden. But lenders shouldn’t be pessimistic in the wake of possible debt cancellation as the Jubilee Year 2000 dawns, he thought.

"Lenders will be doomed if developing countries have nothing to spend because of their huge debt serving demands. Who will buy your Coca Colas?" he wanted to know.

Alias, a Malankana Orthodox Christian, joined the chain and held hands with two other Christians: Roman Catholic Assumption Sister Jessica Gally of London and British Guinea theologian Dr. Hazel Campagne, a Roman Catholic who works as a consultant for the Anglican Diocese of Toronto.

While ringing the Great Hall, Gally recalled a similar manifestation earlier this year when 70,000 Britons, including many immigrants from Commonwealth states, ringed the city of Birmingham and demanded the cancellation of Third World debt.

Gally said that the major churches in Britain, along with such NGOs as Christian Aid and CAFOD all support programs for debt reduction and alternative economics.

Across Canada, similar initiatives were launched in September, Campagne said. They have been endorsed by an interchurch coalition.

Switzerland has already cancelled its bilateral debt with 12 of the poorest developing nations in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, noted Christine Eberlein of the Swiss Coalition, which is part of the Padare. The Swiss launched their debt cancellation plans during the Alpine nation s 700-year celebration in 1990.

In addition to bilateral debt relief, the Swiss have also urged their commercial banks and the international financial institutions to work toward creative debt relief, said Eberlein, a member of the Swiss Reformed Church.

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Read other articles in this issue:

Help create fair world -- Mugabe
Evangelicals liken WCC to a polygamist husband
They work for peace in cities
Churches should defend the voiceless
Received by the President
Human chain to cancel debt
Indian delegates retrace footsteps of St Thomas
Making peace possible
Mugabe's liberty bell cracked

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor