September 13, 1999
The Honorable William J. Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Clinton:
I write to you on behalf of the U.S. Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the U.S. Catholic bishops, regarding debt relief for the world's poorest countries. I understand that as a result of the unexpected surplus for FY 2000 the Administration is now preparing a revised budget request to be submitted to Congress on a number of issues, including increased spending for foreign assistance and international debt relief. It is our hope that your administration will demonstrate its commitment not only to the Cologne Initiative but also to debt relief generally by requesting $1 billion for debt relief.
More than half a billion people, many of whom suffer from malnutrition and unacceptable levels of illiteracy and disease, live in the world's most heavily indebted poor countries. Our brother bishops, Catholic missionaries, and church workers in many of these countries tell us that debt hurts the poorest and most vulnerable who had no say in contracting the loans but on whom the burden of repayment falls heaviest. We believe the debt problem has contributed to an erosion of human dignity in these countries, and we are obligated to act in solidarity with those who are affected, wherever they might live.
The bishops appreciate the leadership you demonstrated at the G-7 Summit in Cologne in securing an agreement for a more generous debt program for the world's heavily indebted poor countries. We are particularly pleased by the G-7's commitment to linking debt relief to poverty reduction. Today, we want to encourage you to take the steps necessary to fulfill the commitments made in Cologne. It is our understanding that the cost to the United States of the Cologne commitment may exceed $1 billion. I respectfully urge you to request that amount for debt relief and to make obtaining Congressional approval a high priority for your administration in the upcoming budget negotiations.
On the broader issue of debt relief, Pope John Paul II has led the call to celebrate the Year 2000 as a Great Jubilee. He has urged people "to raise their voice on behalf of all the poor of the world, proposing the Jubilee as an appropriate time to give thought, among other things, to reducing substantially, if not canceling outright, the international debt which seriously threatens the future of many nations."
In keeping with this tenet, we believe that in addition to funding for the Cologne Debt Initiative, more debt relief is required for the heavily indebted poor countries. For this reason, we are actively supporting H.R. 1095, the Debt Relief for Poverty Reduction Act of 1999, which was introduced by Representatives Leach and LaFalce and has been co-sponsored by more than 100 of their colleagues. We hope your administration will endorse and support passage of this legislation.
Once more, we encourage you to honor the Jubilee year by helping to make the commitments from Cologne a reality and by supporting passage of H.R. 1095.
Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza
Bishop of Galveston-Houston
US Catholic Conference