WASHINGTON (March 9, 2000) – Progress toward significant debt relief for some of the world's poorest countries will falter without further U.S. support for a recently expanded and improved initiative, the chairman of the Bishops' International Policy Committee said in a letter to congressional leaders released today.
The Heavily-Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Trust Fund, to which Cardinal Law refers in his letter, is part of a program under the administration of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund designed to provide greater debt relief more quickly to some of the world's poorest countries. A major part of its funding is from contributions of large creditor nations like the United States. President Clinton has earmarked $210 million for the HIPC Trust Fund in a proposed supplementary appropriations bill for fiscal year 2000.
"This funding is critical not only because of what it will supply directly but also because of the important inducement it will provide for other donor countries to contribute to the Trust Fund," said Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. "If the U.S. contribution is not forthcoming, it will leave a large gap in the financing plan of the new program."
The HIPC initiative was expanded and improved at last year's summit of the world's seven largest industrialized democracies held in Cologne, Germany.
"We earnestly hope that, as the FY2000 supplemental appropriations bill works its way through Congress during the coming weeks, you will support the funding necessary to make 2000 a year of great progress toward lifting the heavy debt burden from the backs of millions of the world's poor," he said.
Cardinal Law extended his gratitude on behalf of the International Policy Committee for the efforts of the congressional leadership last year ensuring U.S. support for the improved HIPC initiative. He reminded them, however, that "important issues remain to be addressed this year."
"While the law [enacted in 1999] provides important funding for U.S. bilateral debt relief and for the International Monetary Fund, funding is still needed for multilateral institutions, such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the African Development Bank."
Debt reduction is a central theme of the Jubilee Year 2000 proclaimed by Pope John Paul II. He has called for "reducing substantially, in not canceling outright" the debt of poor countries. U.S. bishops have made concerted efforts to raise the issue with the Clinton Administration and Members of Congress. In 1998, they launched the Catholic Campaign on the Debt to raise public awareness of the issue.
NOTE: The full text of Cardinal Law's letter is available upon request.