Jubilee Year: Time to Pardon Financial Debt of World's Poorest?

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Washington -- January 1, 2000 marks more than the turn of the millennium in the Western calendar. It also signals the beginning of a 'jubilee year' in the Hebrew calendar, which occurs every 50 years to ensure that social and environmental equilibrium remains in balance.

In ancient Israel, a jubilee year was a time for releasing slaves, reapportioning land and canceling debts.

This ancient concept has led to an international campaign, Jubilee 2000, calling for a cancellation of the financial debt of the world's poorest countries. The U.S. campaign, while not faith-based, comprises a coalition of 35 organizations including the National Council of Churches, environmental and other groups, as well as women's, peasant, union and other watchdog groups in over 60 countries around the world.

'This is a grassroots campaign to change the policy of our government,' said David Bryden, communications coordinator for the Jubilee 2000 USA Campaign.

'This is not about canceling debt and throwing a big party,' Bryden said. 'It is good to pay back your debts. But these debts these countries face are unmanageable. These are debts that have been acquired without knowledge or say-so of the people.'

Some of the poorest nations of the world, including countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, have been struggling with a high debt burden since the early 1980s. Bryden said that much of the debt is the result of ill-conceived development, flawed policies and shortsighted decisions.

Furthermore, most of the increase in international debt that occurred during this decade has come from interest accruing on existing loans and not for productive investment.