The local Roman Catholic Church is calling on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to forgive the debts of countries battered by the dangerous Hurricane Irma.
Arguing that those that felt the fury of the storm would not be able to meet their commitments to the lending agency while seeking to rebuild, the ecclesial movement SIGNIS Caribbean today said it would ask the conference of bishops and archbishops from current and former British, Dutch, and French colonies and dependencies in the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America to appeal for debt relief on behalf of those countries.
“I will . . . be proposing to our executive of the Antilles Episcopal Conference that they consider appealing to the IMF, that they the IMF would consider debt relief,” Vicar General of the Diocese of Georgetown, Guyana Father John Persaud told a news conference to introduce the new board of SIGNIS Caribbean, a Catholic association for communication, made up of professionals in the communication media.
The British Overseas territory of Anguilla, Antigua’s sister island of Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Franco-Dutch island of Saint Martin are among the worst affected countries.
The storm has claimed at least ten lives so far and has left behind hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to homes and infrastructure, with preliminary estimates of the damage to Barbuda alone placed at approximately US$55 million.
And with Irma still posing a threat to the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas and Haiti, the death toll and the amount of damage could rise even more steeply.
“Helping them with debt relief so that they don’t have to pay back loans, it would be a good way of helping them. So we are moving also at that level at the long-term because there is going to be a lot of devastation and a lot of rebuilding to do,” Persaud said, adding that the church would make a direct appeal to the IMF through the AEC, of which Haiti is not a member, to give the storm affected countries “a little bit of breathing space” as they try to rebuild.
With Hurricane Irma being the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade, and with two other hurricanes, Jose and Katia threatening, the issue of climate change was raised by the Catholic Bishop Jason Gordon.
Without pointedly stating that the category 5 superstorm was directly related to climate change, Gordon said debt forgiveness would be a form of justice for Caribbean countries which contribute little to the problem but suffer gravely from its effects.
“The whole debt thing is a question of justice. We didn’t create the climate change or the global warming. We didn’t create the carbon footprint that the world has experienced and all of the ecological changes that we have had,” the Bishop said.
The cleric said the lobbying efforts would also take place through the church’s Jubilee Caribbean Debt Network, which has evolved largely from the faith community in the region including several Catholic dioceses, and which advocates for debt relief.
In 2010 Antigua and Barbuda entered into a three-year standby loan agreement with the IMF for US$117.8 million to help in a recovery proigramme from mounting government debt, weak economic growth and the effects of the economic crisis.
It was later revised downward to $102 million, with the Antiguan government making its first loan repayment of US$3.16 in September 2013.
“These international groups have helped us in the Caribbean to restructure debt and to negotiate that conversation very differently from how we in the Caribbean have done it on a whole,” Gordon said.
Meantime, even as the church intercedes on behalf of the affected countries, it also plans to “respond to the immediate needs” of the storm victims by embarking on a collection drive for items such as bottled water, non-perishable food items, sheets and blankets, and utensils.
“All our dioceses throughout the Caribbean, the president and vice president of our conference will be putting out something soon, and we are going to be appealing to all our dioceses inviting them to organize collections; monetary as well as other items that can assist including building items. This is the long-term, to help in the rebuilding of those who have lost everything,” Persaud said.