In the midst of DC’s biggest blizzard in decades this weekend, I missed an exciting announcement– on Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced its support for relieving Haiti’s international debt. Debt relief for Haiti will free up financing for the country to recover from the January 12th earthquake and rebuild its shattered infrastructure.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has pledged to work with other donor agencies to alleviate this debt burden on Haiti. He said:
The earthquake in Haiti was a catastrophic setback to the Haitian people who are now facing tremendous emergency humanitarian and reconstruction needs, and meeting Haiti’s financing needs will require a massive multilateral effort… Today, we are voicing our support for what Haiti needs and deserves — comprehensive multilateral debt relief.
This development comes on the heels of the religious community’s advocacy for debt relief, from brand-new organization, The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, to long-standing advocacy organizations like Jubilee USA. The New Evangelical Partnership celebrated and thanked the U.S. Treasury Department for their call and urged the remaining lending nations and institutions to swiftly forgive Haiti’s debt, and continue our call for all aid to come in the form of grants. Jubilee USA also welcomed the Sec. Geithner’s statement and said, “we can look forward to the US using its leadership to secure a broader commitment from G7 finance ministers.”
And as Hayley Hathaway at Jubilee USA wrote in reference to the recent developments on the Haiti debt relief front at God’s Politics today: “For those of us who work for social justice, victory can seem elusive. But then there are times when we mobilize at the right time with the right message and our leaders cannot help but listen and respond. This weekend was one of those times.”
Thank goodness. The people of Haiti need all the help we can give.
I woke up this morning, flipped open my laptop, and saw that Haiti had suffered yet another aftershock from January 12′s devastating earthquake. Apparently experts have said that Haiti can expect more of the same– aftershocks probably won’t abate for at least a month.
Can you even imagine? Survivors in Haiti have already suffered so much. Tens, probably hundreds, of thousands of people have perished. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends, teachers, pastors… buried beneath rubble in a country that was already one of the poorest in the world.
But it’s also heartwarming to see the way the world has responded. Yes, there are problems with the relief efforts, from the bottlenecking of aid to the ill-advised cruise line stop. But by and large, people from across the world– especially people of faith– have stepped up to help Haiti. Financial donations have poured in, from individuals, congregations, and communities.
But relief efforts aren’t enough. We need to help the people of Haiti fix their broken infrastructure, and it’ll be nearly impossible to do so as they continue to be saddled with foreign debt. Faith groups are taking up the call to relieve this burden to help Haiti truly rebuild their country. A newly-launched, exciting new organization, the New Evangelical Parternship for the Common Good released a powerful statement today, with dozens of prominent evangelical signers. And Jubilee USA has also been a strong advocate for debt cancellation.
Check out this video of Jubliee USA’s Neil Watkins on Rachel Maddow:
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced Friday that the US will grant temporary protected status to Haitian immigrants who are currently awaiting deportation. This welcome announcement follows a groundswell of advocacy by, among others, faith groups such as Catholics United. The National Catholic Reporter stated that
Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a letter to President Barack Obama released minutes before Napolitano’s teleconference that by offering protected status to Haitians they “would be better able to assist their families in Haiti through remittances and by working together as a community to garner other resources for their stricken homeland.”
in light of the staggering loss of life and ongoing suffering, it’s easy to overlook policy changes like this that make a concrete difference for thousands of Haitians. On a related note, the call for debt forgiveness for Haiti is gaining steam among governments, NGOs and faith groups. Given the crushing weight of Haiti’s debt (and wealthy nations’ partial responsibility for its accrual), the destruction of their infrastructure and the intense humanitarian needs in the wake of the earthquake, such measures are urgently needed.
I don’t know what to say about the incomprehensible suffering in Haiti right now. The near-total destruction of Port-au-Prince and the death of thousands and thousands of people is mind-boggling and heartbreaking.
Fortunately, the response to the catastrophe in Haiti is well underway, and the faith community is mobilizing to bring relief — as it has throughout history. Today’s news was full of reports on religious groups’ actions. A few from FPL’s News Reel:
Baptists prep for immediate, long-term responses to Haiti quake
(By Bob Allen and Robert Marus – Associated Baptist Press)
HIAS asks U.S. to grant refuge to Haitians
(Jewish Telegraphic Agency)
VIDEO: Candlelight vigil at the Haitian embassy
(By Alexandra Garcia – Washington Post)
Faithful America is also encouraging its online community to donate to on-the-ground groups in Haiti providing relief and emergency care, and other online faith groups are mounting campaigns to ensure that Haitian immigrants are granted refugee status to prevent them being deported. The broad mobilization at a moment of such acute crisis is a reminder that we’re all in this together.
Like many worthwhile advocates on numerous causes, Save Darfur is gearing up to hold the incoming administration to the assurances they gave on the campaign trail. In an interview with the group, Pres.-elect Obama called for U.S.-supported peacekeepers on the ground and oil sanction enforcement, and said “as president of the United States I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.” See for yourself:
To make sure the genocide doesn’t fall into Obama’s blind spot as countless issues and interest groups draw his attention, Save Darfur is mounting the “Add your voice” campaign to send him 250,000 postcards by Inauguration Day and a million by the end of his first 100 days, urging him to make it an immediate priority to protect civilians, establish sustainable peace, and get justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators.
From my limited experience in online organizing, a million signatures or postcards is a LOAD, no matter how big your list is. Getting that many will signal that there’s real energy behind the cause, and the White House will notice. Obama pledged “unstinting resolve” on Darfur. Let’d make sure he doesn’t forget!