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Third World Debt Deemed Illegal

by AP Thursday, Feb. 07, 2002 at 7:58 AM

People's Tribunal on the Debt in Porto Alegre finds .8 trillion in debt illegal; World Bank, IMF & other lenders guilty of genocide

Published on Monday, February 4, 2002 by the Associated Press

by Harold Olmos

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil -- A "court" composed of figures from developing nations ruled that the .8 trillion Third World debt was illegal and should be forgiven.

The "Court on Foreign Debt," sponsored by activist group Jubilee South, also charged lenders -- including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- with genocide and pillaging debtor nations, spokesman Alejandro Bendana said Sunday.

Foreign debt has been a focus of the Social Forum, a summit of 40,000 politicians and members of grass-roots and citizens' rights groups meeting at the same time as the World Economic Forum.

About 2,700 politicians, business leaders and academics have gathered for the World Economic Forum in New York to discuss U.S. foreign policy, its possible role in breeding terrorism and the downside of globalization.

At the Porto Alegre meeting, the court said developing nations' debt -- which is about 0 billion in Latin America alone -- was contracted "outside the bounds of national and international law and without consulting society."

That crippling debt was "illegitimate, unjust and unsustainable, ethically, legally or politically," the court said.

Its judges included Argentine Nobel laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel; Tanzanian lawmaker Rosemary Nyerere, daughter of "the father of African nationalism," Julius Nyerere; and South African poet Dennis Brutus, who spent time in prison with Nelson Mandela.

The court's "ruling" included 13 charges against industrialized nations and several institutions, such as crimes against humanity, collecting "usurious interest rates" and supporting dictatorial regimes.

The court faxed its ruling to several of the accused, including the World Bank and the IMF. Bendana said the accused had until the end of April to respond before the judges issue a sentence.

The judges also made 14 recommendations, including campaigns for debt rejection, full auditing of debt figures and creating procedures to control indebtedness, the statement said.

It also urged lawmakers in various countries to investigate how money from debt payments is applied and to demand the return of natural resources obtained from developing nations. In the late 1990s, Jubilee successfully pressed for the cancellation of 0 billion in debt owed by 41 poor countries. But the organization said at least 0 billion owed by 52 countries had to be pardoned to end the debt crisis.

Delegates in Porto Alegre repeatedly cite Argentina, which last month defaulted on its 1 billion public debt after nearly four years of recession and a cutoff of IMF aid, as an example of the failure of free-market economics.

The Bush administration supports the IMF stance that Argentina must change its currency regime, scrap a banking freeze and deal with soaring budget deficits.

That stance has angered delegates here.

"The more we pay, the more we owe and the less we have. That is the perverse logic of debt," Esquivel said.

Copyright © 2002, The Associated Press

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