December 16, 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 wish to express my sincere appreciation for the strong commitment to poor country debt relief which you demonstrated, first, in offering 100% cancellation of most U.S. bilateral debt, and, most recently, in the successful FY2000 budget negotiations with the Congress. Through your leadership and the cooperation of the Congress, we now have crucial new authorization and funding for bilateral and IMF debt reduction for many of the world's poorest countries.
These actions represent good news for hundreds of millions of people, many of whom suffer from malnutrition, low levels of illiteracy, and debilitating disease. We believe that excessive external debt has become a serious obstacle to improving the lives of these people and an affront to their human dignity. This situation, in our view, gives rise to an obligation to act in solidarity with them, wherever they may live. We must work to alleviate the debt burden in order to give hope, particularly to the poorest of the poor. The new legislation represents important progress towards this objective.
While we are pleased and grateful for the new legislation, as you know, more needs to be done. We understand that important decisions will be made about further debt relief funding during on-going discussions about a supplemental budget request for FY 2000 and the preparation of your FY2001 budget request. These decisions will be critical to the hopes of poor countries around the world for substantial debt relief in the Jubilee Year 2000. We are reminded of Pope John Paul II's 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 considering debt relief funding in a supplemental budget, the most immediate need is to fill in the missing piece from the Cologne commitment --a contribution to the Heavily-Indebted Poor Countries' (HIPC) Trust Fund. A U.S. contribution to the Trust Fund is critical not only because of the funding it will supply directly but also because of the important inducement it will provide to contributions from other creditors. The failure to make a U.S. contribution, on the other hand, will leave a large gap in the financing plan, putting at risk not only early implementation, but also the success of the whole Initiative. I respectfully urge you to include in the supplemental request the full contribution needed this fiscal year for the HIPC Trust Fund.
Equally important will be appropriations for bilateral debt reduction and the HIPC Trust fund in the FY2001 budget. I urge you to include the funding necessary for full implementation of the Cologne Initiative and the cancellation of bilateral debt.
Once more, we are appreciative and greatly encouraged by what you have done this year for poor country debt reduction. We earnestly hope that you will take the remaining steps necessary to make the Jubilee Year a time of great progress towards lifting the heavy debt burden from the backs of millions of the world's poor.
With best wishes to you and your family for Christmas and the New Year, I am
Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza
Bishop of Galveston-Houston
United States Catholic Conference