Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Bank Robbery: Forgive Us Our Bad Debts-Many of Which Were Made Fraudulently to Developing Countries

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Bank Robbery: Forgive Us Our Bad Debts-Many of Which Were Made Fraudulently to Developing Countries

Article excerpt

ECUADOR'S NEW PRESIDENT, RAFAEL CORREA, pledged during his campaign to reduce the nation's external debt burden. Now he could have played the game according to the existing rules and sought debt relief through renegotiation of Ecuador's many loans. Instead he has launched an unprecedented, comprehensive audit of the nation's $10.6 billion debt.

Correa suspects, a suspicion shared by many economists, that it won't prove too difficult to demonstrate that a lot of that debt is essentially fraudulent. That discovery could lead Correa and Ecuador into some unexplored territory in the world of international banking, to a place where a single phrase has long haunted the guilty sleep of global moneylenders: "debt repudiation."


It's the kind of startlingly obvious notion that dare not speak its name in the hallowed halls of international credit where vast sums of money and power are transferred across continents at the click of a keyboard: What if they just didn't pay? What if the impoverished nations of the developing world, struggling to feed and educate their citizens, simply turned their back on the crippling debt they've assumed over decades of international borrowing?

The church has in recent years been active in pressuring First World lenders to forgive debt in the developing world in efforts ultimately aimed at allowing poor nations to invest in social services such as education or health care. But repudiation offers a more potent, and perhaps ultimately more just, tool toward relieving the crushing burden of debt. To the average mortgage-paying American--trained to treat debt servicing as sacrosanct--the idea of not paying a debt seems deeply unfair to the banks and institutions that over the years agreed to extend a fiscal helping hand to developing world governments and businesses, helping them build bridges, highways, and more. Surely these kind folk deserve to have their capital, along with a decent interest, returned to them?

Well, maybe not. The interest paid on many such debts has already achieved indecent levels, and more evidence is gathering that some bankers essentially colluded with local elites in green-lighting shaky loans that were quickly looted. …

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