Human Chain Surrounds Capitol
Williams, Clarence, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Thousands of protesters formed a human chain around the U.S. Capitol yesterday to convince policy-makers of the need to break the chain of poverty for underdeveloped nations around the world.
They demanded that the United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund write off the debts of Third World countries and wipe the slate clean for undeveloped nations.
"Corruption, that's where the money went. The politicians, they get all the money," said Paulo Martins, 34, who came to the United States 11 years ago from Brazil.
"I don't know [how much Brazil's debt is], but I know it's a lot of money," Mr. Martins said, but added that Brazil's payment for this month is about $150 million.
Jubilee 2000/USA organized yesterday's protest on the Mall to push for deeper debt relief than the $27 billion planned by the IMF and the World Bank. The group wants to eradicate the debt of 52 poor countries totaling $350 billion by the end of the year.
"Citizens of countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia are being denied health care, education and other opportunities because their governments are weighted down by crushing debt," said Daniel Driscoll-Shaw, national coordinator of Jubilee 2000/USA.
Organizers expected 10,000 to 20,000 protesters but estimated that only 3,000 to 5,000 were on hand on a cold and blustery afternoon. They assembled under a large banner that read "Cancel the Debt, Now."
Speakers included AFL-CIO President John Sweeney; President Clinton's economic adviser, Gene Sperling; and the archbishop of Honduras, Oscar Rodriguez.
Mr. Sperling read a letter from the president.
"Let us say today that no nation on this Earth should be forced to choose between feeding and educating children or paying interest on excessive debt," the letter said. "Let us say that no children, no matter where they are born, should be deprived of the opportunity to reach their full potential."
Mr. Martins said that the main reason he and other Brazilians come to the United States is to find jobs. He drives a truck that he owns, but hopes to return to his homeland by the end of the year to help create some jobs by starting a dairy and coffee farm.
"When you ask me how I feel, I just cry - it's tough to talk about," said a weeping Mr. Martins, thinking about the poor people back home, many of whom live on $78 per month.
"Can you imagine that? How can you live on $78 a month?"
Yesterday's event was aimed at encouraging Congress to approve a supplementary budget request for $210 million to fund the U.S. obligations this year under the IMF-led Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, which aims to cut the debts of the world's poorest nations.
Last year, Congress approved $123 million as the first installment to meet Mr. Clinton's pledge to forgive 100 percent of debts owed by poor nations to the world's richest country. Congress also allowed the IMF to use some of its massive gold reserves to fund debt relief but to date has stalled on making any U.S. contribution.
If Congress delays or fails to approve the request, organizers said other nations may withhold their funding, putting the entire relief plan at risk. …