Tour calls for cancellation of nations’ debt

This week Portland plays host to the Jubilee Global Connections Tour, a series of events around Portland aimed at raising consciousness and building a larger movement for issues related to debt cancellation for impoverished countries.

The tour is sponsored by the Jubilee USA Network in Oregon, part of a group of 70 member organizations nationwide all working towards total debt cancellation for the impoverished nations of the world.

Debt cancellation has become a major topic of international debate over the past several years. As many as 100 impoverished nations are deeply in debt due to loans they have received from wealthier countries like the United States. Countries are forced to forgo funding needed for infrastructure like education and healthcare in order to pay back the debt.

The Jubilee tour, which is traveling through Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Missoula, Montana and Atlanta, is a timely event. The Group of Eight (G8) Summit will be at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland July 6 – 8, 2005, and the agenda will include debt relief for heavily indebted countries, particularly in Africa.

G8 is an annual summit of the world’s richest countries that began its development in 1975. The countries that are included are France, the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and sometimes Russia. These countries meet to consider economic policy issues as well as political and security matters, but have often been accused of protecting the wealthy and powerful to the detriment of the rest of the world’s people.

In addition, in March a bi-partisan congressional delegation that includes Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced the Jubilee ACT, calling for 100 percent debt cancellation for 50 countries.

The tour events are being held all over the city, from Portland State and Portland Community College to the Kennedy School and the Governor Hotel. The events range from forums to speeches by the tour speakers: Jonah Gokova, the chair of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development and coordinator of Ecumenical Support Services in that country; Ana Maria Nemenzo, a political activist and president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) in the Philippines; and Neil Watkins, the National Coordinator of Jubilee USA Network.

Two of the events will be at PSU. The first is the Portland Area Global AIDS Coalition event from 7 – 9 p.m. at the Multicultural Center tonight, where local groups addressing the AIDS pandemic will be available to give students information and help them get involved. There will also be speakers discussing the connection between debt and AIDS. The second event at PSU is a discussion group from 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. Friday in the Food For Thought Caf� with the topic, “How Can 30,000 People Die Each Day from Debt?” Here students, tour speakers, staff and faculty can all brainstorm together on how to best activate and involve the community regarding the issue of debt relief, especially in order to put pressure on G8 attendees in July.

Pat Rumer, a volunteer for Jubilee USA Network in Oregon, is both an alumna and former employee of PSU. In an interview with the Vanguard she said that part of the plan for reaching the tour goals includes making those in attendance aware of how the debt trauma in other countries relates to them.

The examples she gave were threefold: the AIDS pandemic affects almost every country, and one of the places indebted countries are forced to cut back on funding is health care. She pointed out that the U.S. is also diverting funds from health care, and that this demonstrates that we are all connected with an “overall struggle for improved health care.” She also noted that another place these countries are forced to cut back is education, which Oregonians can understand in light of recent cutbacks in our own education system.

One of the tour’s cosponsors is the Oregon branch of the organization Jobs with Justice. A major focus of their campaign is their opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), so one of the events will address the connection between debt and trade. Part of tour speaker Ana Maria Nemenzo’s activism relates to the struggle against privatizing water and utilities in the Philippines, and Rumer also pointed out how that connects with Portland’s own struggle to purchase PGE. Rumer said, “We want people to recognize that we do live in a global community.”