Religious leaders and trade union representatives from across the Caribbean gathered on the "Spice Isle" over the past week to formally launch the Caribbean Debt Network to influence debt restructurings and austerity policies taking place across the Caribbean. Six out of the twenty most heavily indebted countries in the world are in the Caribbean. Various Catholic Dioceses and the Caribbean Council of Churches attended the launch from St. Vincent, Barbados, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Grenada.
"Caribbean countries struggle with high debt burdens and high poverty levels," noted Reverend Sean Doggett, a Catholic priest and spokesperson for the Diocese of Grenada. "Our regional network knows if we want to end poverty, we need to end unsustainable debts."
The Caribbean islands are dotted with makeshift shacks, where depending on the island, 20 percent to 40 percent of the population lives in poverty. Various islands see unemployment rates soar as high as 30 percent to 50 percent. Like dominoes, island after island is going through International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt restructurings that demand austerity policies that hurt millions of people living in extreme poverty throughout the region.
"Our churches are on the front lines of fighting poverty in the Caribbean. We see how the debt crisis is hurting the poorest people on the islands," shared the new Chair of the Caribbean Debt Network, Reverend Osbert James, who is a Presbyterian minister and head of the Grenada Council of Churches.
This new movement for debt cancellation is spreading throughout the region and initially began last year on the island of Grenada. In Grenada, religious leaders formed a Jubilee Committee and inserted themselves in debt restructuring negotiations between their government and the IMF. The newly formed Caribbean network organized international support from The Commonwealth Secretariat, The United Nations Development Programme and Jubilee campaigns from Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Jubilee USA Network attended the launch and has been working with the religious leaders to win fair debt deals in the region.
"It's amazing to see these religious leaders in action. They have an astute awareness of how their people are trapped in poverty because of these enormous debt burdens," shared Eric LeCompte, the executive director of the antipoverty organization Jubilee USA and an expert to four UN working groups on these issues.
Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of more than 75 US organizations, 400 faith communities and 50 Jubilee global partners. Jubilee's mission is to build an economy that serves, protects and promotes participation of the most vulnerable. Jubilee USA has won critical global financial reforms and more than $130 billion in debt relief to benefit the world's poorest people. www.jubileeusa.org