WASHINGTON— Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) led more than 300 international lawmakers across two dozen countries in a letter to the leadership of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) today, calling on the international financial institutions to cancel low-income countries’ debt in response to the global COVID-19 crisis and provide a major infusion of financial support to avert a global economic meltdown.
“What this crisis shows us is that we have got to act as a global community—we truly are all in this together. That means protecting the most vulnerable amongst us,” said Sanders. “In the face of a horrific pandemic and a worldwide recession, we cannot allow poor countries to dedicate money that should be going towards protecting the health and safety of their people to pay off unsustainable debts. We cannot allow these countries to be deprived of the resources they need to purchase food, medicine, protective gear, and medical equipment. The steps that our international coalition of lawmakers is proposing are not radical. It is the very least that these financial institutions should do to prevent an unimaginable increase in poverty, hunger, and disease that threatens hundreds of millions of people.”
“This is a global economic and public health crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes,” said Rep. Omar. “We as a global community must seize this opportunity to get relief to those who are suffering by cancelling debt for nations who cannot afford it. As the largest contributor to the IMF and the leading force behind the establishment of the World Bank, the United States should take the lead in this effort. I am humbled by the broad show of support for this policy on all six continents—including former heads of state. We are all globally connected and must act as a collective to get us out of this crisis.”
The UN predicts that coronavirus crisis could increase global poverty by as much as half a billion people—8% of the total human population. The World Food Programme estimates that the number of people pushed to the brink of starvation due to the global economic crisis could double, to 265 million from 135 million, as a result of the pandemic. Meanwhile, developing countries hold roughly $11 trillion in external debt, with $3.9 trillion of debt service due this year. Sixty-four countries currently pay more on debt servicing than on health care.
“The temporary suspension and deferment of debt will not be sufficient to help these countries fully prioritize the prompt and sustainable management of the crisis at hand,” the coalition of lawmakers wrote, urging the heads of the World Bank and IMF to instead “take strong leadership to provide extensive debt relief and financial assistance for all impoverished nations most at risk of the devastating human costs and the long-lasting economic injuries of COVID-19.” This includes the deployment of “trillions of dollars” in global liquidity—known as Special Drawing Rights, which are costless—to “avert major increases in poverty, hunger and disease.”
Lawmakers involved in the initiative span the ideological spectrum, from progressive UK Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn to Argentine lawmaker Carlos Menem, who, as President of Argentina, enacted austerity measures in the 1980s and 1990s.
Notable signers include Ricardo Monreal, Senate majority leader in Mexico; Golriz Ghahraman, Green Party MP in New Zealand; French assemblyman Jean-Luc Mélénchon; Adam Bandt, leader of the Australian Greens; Israeli Knesset members Ofer Cassif, Aida Touma-Sliman, and Ayman Odeh; Maya Fernandez Allende, granddaughter of Salvador Allende; and Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro. Sanders and Omar were also joined by domestic lawmakers U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Representatives Chuy García (D-Ill.), Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jayapal (D-Wash.), Lee (D-Calif.), Norton (D-D.C.), Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Pocan (D-Wis.), Pressley (D-Mass.), Rush (D-Ill.), and Tlaib (D-Mich.).
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