By Rev. Steven D. Martin
Executive Director, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
Imagine your best friend borrowing your credit card and maxing it out. Then imagine him taking the loot and skipping the country. Now you can’t buy new tires for your car. That’s the story of the Haitian people and illustrates the obscure topic of third-world debt.
While Pat Robertson blames Haiti’s devastation on a pact with the devil, the roots of Haiti’s problems actually lie in the cruel history of slavery, Napoleon, and yes, debt. Mountainous debts buried Haiti as the price of liberation in 1803. Only in 1947 were these founding debts paid off.
And then came the Duvaliers, who padded their own pockets with loans given for the benefits of good government: roads, sewers, services, electricity, among other things. When Papa and then Baby Doc left, the debt remained, and payments of $50 million came due each year in a country where per-capita income is somewhere around $2 a day. Later leaders did little to improve on the Duvaliers’ record. No wonder that Haiti’s streets, pre-earthquake, were littered with old cars, long abandoned, stripped of their salvageable parts: there’s no place to take them when they stop running.
Haiti’s problems are deep, her woundedness now visible to all. The earthquake by itself would have been bad enough, but Haiti’s structural poverty and lack of infrastructure has added devastating insult to centuries-old injury. No one thing is going to make it all right overnight. But there is something that will make a long-term difference: forgive the rest of Haiti’s debt.
For those Christians who believe that real life is found in love of God and neighbor, just as Jesus said it would be, this is a no-brainer. Estimates are that Haiti still holds somewhere between $400 million and $1 billion in debt owed to other nations and to the Inter-America Development Bank. In September, the United States forgave $12 million, the last of its bilateral loans to Haiti. Other countries have followed suit. Now that this horrible, almost apocalyptic destruction has come, it’s hard to make a case against doing everything possible to give Haiti a boost.
A new Christian organization, The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, has just launched with a call for total cancellation of Haiti’s debt. A remarkable number of influential evangelical leaders have joined in this simple plea: forgive Haiti’s debt and make all future assistance in the form of grants, not new loans.
Now is the time for the world to act.
We applaud the United States’ leadership in coming to the aid of the Haitian people. We commend the outpouring of resources from people worldwide through charities. We ask that we all join together in finding long-term ways to help rebuild Haiti, and the answer is right there in front of us in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
A nation buried in rubble should not also be buried in debt.
Rev. Steven D. Martin is a pastor and documentary filmmaker. The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good is led by Rev. Richard Cizik, Dr. David Gushee, and Rev. Steven D. Martin.