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Column We won’t give up the fight for international debt justice

We are paying off debts that are not our own – but through consistent, popular resistance, our society can be free of this crisis, writes Nessa Ní Chasaide.

THIS SATURDAY AND Sunday, to mark debt justice group Debt and Development Coalition Ireland’s 20th anniversary, local and international debt campaigners will converge in Ballyhea and Charleville, Co Cork. In this intense period of global financial crisis, campaigners from across Ireland, from the UK and Argentina will share stories of people’s victories in the face of debt crises, and chart out strategies in the fight for international debt justice.

The choice of location is deliberate and significant. Ballyhea and Charleville are the homes of the small but determined communities showing consistent opposition to Ireland’s illegitimate banking debt. Indeed, as part of this weekend’s events, campaigners will join the Ballyhea Says No campaign to march in their 141st week of protest against the illegitimate payments of over €64 billion in socialised banking debt. We join with the Ballyhea campaign in saying that these debts are not the debts of the people of Ireland.

On our 20th anniversary, Debt and Development Coalition calls for the non-payment of the nearly €30 billion in remaining Anglo bonds and for agreement on how the people of Ireland and elsewhere in Europe are to be compensated for the further billions already lost to our gambling banks.

Solutions must be based on international solidarity

But we don’t want compensation for Ireland at the cost of people in other countries, who have been living in debt crises for far longer than we have in Europe. Solutions must be based on international solidarity. This weekend campaigners will contextualize the Irish struggle for debt justice within the myriad and ongoing campaigns across all continents of the world. Our purpose is to highlight that we are not alone in this battle. And that unjustly indebted people, when united, are a powerful force.

Our involvement with the global debt cancellation movement has taught us this.

Through mass global protest over two decades, debt cancellation deals reached in 1996, 1999 and 2005 cancelled US$130 billion of World Bank, IMF, African Development Bank and Inter-American Development Bank loans to Africa, Asia and Latin America.  But these outcomes have also taught us the costs that can come with negotiated settlements with creditors. This is because the cancellations were provided on condition of disastrous economic policies such as privatization and liberalization of domestic markets and enforced clearance of debt arrears.

These lessons teach us that indebted governments, through calling for multi-lateral negotiations or by taking direct action, must always seek to challenge the dominant role of the creditor. And we, the people, must apply consistent pressure to ensure our governments act in our interests.

The global debt justice movement draws on many inspiring examples of this in action.

Argentina and Grenada

In Latin America there is the much mis-represented Argentine debt default which forced the majority of creditors to accept 25-30 cent in the dollar on their loans. In Charleville this weekend, Dr Alan Cibils, chair of the Political Economy Department at the Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento in Buenos Aires will re-balance the debate about Argentina’s decision. His work highlights the unavoidable necessity for governments to tackle unsustainable debt levels and outlines the benefits that arise from treating non-payment of unsustainable or unjust debt as an effective policy option for governments in crisis.

While the Irish Government appears to believe that there are no policy options beyond full debt repayment, the small plucky Caribbean island state of Grenada is taking a different route. Last March, Grenada was unable to pay its debts to its international creditors. In a ground breaking development last month, the Minister for Economic Development in Grenada announced that they are calling a debtor-creditor conference in order to negotiate debt cancellation with their creditors.

Indeed, Grenada is mirroring the precedent of the massive debt write down achieved by Germany in 1953, through the London Debt Accord, which comprehensively relieved Germany of about 50% of its sovereign, commercial and personal debts.

The people have the most power

Around the world, grassroots movements continue to call on their governments to act for justice. In 2012, in addition to mass protest, people in Portugal sang some of their national anthem “the people have the most power” wherever government ministers appeared. In El Salvador workers went on strike for nine months forcing their government to reverse a health privatization plan. In Greece, workers in Thessaloniki took control of their factory, abandoned by its owners. In Tunisia many hundreds of strikes have been held since 2011 under the banner ‘we don’t owe, we won’t pay’.

The events in Ballyhea and Charleville this weekend are a poignant moment for reflection on these global struggles. Instead of mourning the ongoing debt crises in the Global South and in Europe, this weekend we will focus on the international connectedness of people living with unjust debts. From Ballyhea to Buenos Aries and from Athens to Islamabad, people around the world are consistently opposing unjust sovereign debt payments.

We celebrate our successes and learn from campaign setbacks, but above all we take the long view – that unjust debts should not be paid and it is through consistent people’s resistance that this may be achieved.

Nessa Ní Chasaide is coordinator of Debt and Development Coalition Ireland. She tweets from @Debt_Ireland.

The full programme for the events in Ballyhea/Charleville on Sat 9th and Sun 10th November can be found here.

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