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January 24, 2010

Repaying Debts – from Haiti to Guantanamo

Posted in: Foreign policy,Haiti,Human Rights,Iraq

Looking over the news this week, from Haiti to Iraq and Afghanistan to Guantanamo, there’s news of debts national and personal that show the costs of our misdirected relationship with the world.

Let’s start with Haiti. The fundraising for aid has been unprecedented and the need will continue for years to come. How Haiti is rebuilt will be a real test of how we engage with others – will we replay the earlier meddling which left Haiti so vulnerable to the earthquake or will we work with other international partners to finally support the wishes of the Haitian people? One area where we can make an important difference is in addressing the IMF debt which has undercut any chance of advancement.

In response to calls by activists like Jubilee USA to cancel Haiti’s debt:

Jubilee USA Network welcomed the statement today by IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn (1)  about his intention to secure debt cancellation for Haiti, including cancellation of the IMF’s proposed $100 million loan for emergency assistance to the country.

“Since the IMF’s announcement last week of its intention to provide Haiti with a $100 million loan, Jubilee USA and our partners have been calling for grants and debt cancellation – not new loans — for Haiti.  We are pleased that Managing Director Strauss- Kahn has responded to that call,” said Neil Watkins, Executive Director of Jubilee USA.

Jubilee USA is asking everyone to help keep the IMF on this course by sending letters to the editors of their local papers – and they have set up a wonderful tool to make it easier for you to help.

Of course, Haiti is not the only country facing the repercussions of debt. Here are home, we have an immense deficit and it looks like the DoD will continue to drive the numbers ever higher. This week, the Project for Defense Alternatives released a report that shows just how high in the summary The President’s Dilemma: Debt, Deficits, and Defense Spending:

The Obama administration’s DoD budget plans lock into place the unprecedented rise in defense spending – 90% – that began in the late-1990s, consolidating a return to Reagan-era budget levels (when corrected for inflation).

Although the administration foresees a DoD budget that in 2017 will dip 3.8% below the highest of the GW Bush budgets, President Obama plans over eight years to allocate more money to the Pentagon in real terms than did his predecessor – perhaps much more.

The administration’s blueprint sets aside $4.8 trillion for DOD (in 2010 US dollars) during the period 2010-2017.  The GW Bush administration allocated $4.66 trillion (2010 USD).   But current plans use only a “place-keeper”figure for war funding after 2011: $50 billion annually (current dollar).  In light of developments in both Afghanistan and Iraq, this seems unrealistic. More realistically, the  Obama administration will have to allocate the Pentagon well over $5 trillion (2010 USD) during 2010-2017, assuming it stays its current course.  And, in real terms, this would significantly surpass not only George W. Bush, but also Ronald Reagan.

Indeed, by a substantial margin, it would represent the greatest amount allotted the Pentagon in any eight years since 1946 – a period encompassing the Korean, Vietnam, and Cold Wars.

While we spend, spend, spend in this manner, the costs are not just monetary. All those dollars for weapons leave a drastic cost behind for the people whose countries we fight in.

More than 40 sites across Iraq are contaminated with high levels or radiation and dioxins, with three decades of war and neglect having left environmental ruin in large parts of the country, an official Iraqi study has found.

Areas in and near Iraq’s largest towns and cities, including Najaf, Basra and ­Falluja, account for around 25% of the contaminated sites, which appear to coincide with communities that have seen increased rates of cancer and birth defects over the past five years. The joint study by the environment, health and science ministries found that scrap metal yards in and around Baghdad and Basra contain high levels of ionising radiation, which is thought to be a legacy of depleted uranium used in munitions during the first Gulf war and since the 2003 invasion.
h/t Tina from the Agonist

And some debts are intensely personal. In an amazing two part report, the BBC’s Gavin Lee introduces us to one former guard at Guananamo “Brandon Neely, and two of his former prisoners from Britain, after he contacted them on Facebook to express remorse for what he did.” If only our government would do half as much.



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