Debt remission and Jubilee 2000


With student debt cancellation proposed by some members of Congress, it may be helpful to remember Jubilee 2000, when debt cancellation extended to entire countries.

Jubilee 2000 was a movement to cancel the debt of the world’s poorest countries. Struggling with a heavy loan burden, these countries – in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East – have been trapped in a ruinous cycle of demanding more loans to repay previous loans. For his supporters, a debt jubilee seemed the humanitarian response to the crisis.

As scholar Joshua William Busby argues, the movement was truly a moral campaign which involved strategic framing and targeted approaches for the “policy keepers”. Such campaigns were a new form of international advocacy. In the aftermath of the Cold War, the “advanced industrial world” was forced to tackle issues such as landmines, conflict diamonds and child labor on the basis of “broader notions of the good and the good. evil rather than their own material interest ”.

Jubilee 2000 referred to the biblical concept of the Jubilee, a time of celebration and relief every fifty years. In the early 1990s, British scholar Martin Dent started the project by suggesting that the millennium would be the perfect time for a “jubilee year,” in which the indebted poor would be freed from the burden of their debt.

The campaign would call for unconditional debt relief, but the reaction has been mixed. Busby notes that Britain and Canada, the smallest holders of bilateral debt, were more enthusiastic about helping HIPCs (heavily indebted poor countries) than were France and Japan, which held the largest bilateral debt outstanding. “While the costs of US debt relief were low, it took a long time to honor their commitment to the HIPC Trust Fund,” Busby writes.

Miriam Bauerlin holds a billboard pleading for debt cancellation during a protest near the US Treasury Department October 1, 2004 in Washington, DC. Getty

Jubilee 2000 was multidimensional, international, and run by celebrities like Bono. At the 1998 G-8 summit in Birmingham, UK, some 50,000 supporters formed a human chain around the summit facilities. Thirty thousand attended the 1999 G-7 Summit in Cologne, Germany. The Pope signed in early 1999.

Busby tells the possibly apocryphal story of Bono making Conservative Senator Jesse Helms cry with his argument. Helms, who had previously denounced foreign aid, was obviously moved by Bono’s pleas, even though there had been no tears. “The liberal-religious conservative coalition,” writes Busby, “that met on debt relief foreshadowed advocacy efforts that would play a significant role in the Bush administration’s $ 15 billion financial pledge. to fight AIDS.

“In terms of policy,” Busby adds, “Jubilee 2000 efforts pushed donors to more than double the amount of debt relief offered; as of May 2006, 19 states were already eligible for $ 23.4 billion in debt forgiveness[.]”

In Busby’s formulation, Jubilee cost the United States little in terms of wealth or political sacrifice, even though foreign aid, a tiny chunk of the budget, has always been a hard sell. A combination of personalities in the Clinton administration and congressional “technocrats” united in Christian appeals to powerful fundamentalists like Helms in the Senate. Other “gatekeepers who remained opposed to debt relief […] seem to have been moved by political pressure, lobbying and shame, ”including Jubilee 2000 supporter Pat Robertson.

“Debt relief as a whole,” Busby concludes, “probably had a better chance of receiving broader international support than climate change, as the costs of the whole initiative required less change. behavior and politics ”.


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By: Joshua William Busby

International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 51, n ° 2 (June 2007), pp. 247-275

Wiley on behalf of the International Studies Association

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