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Clinton's Offer to Cancel Debt (27/3/1999)

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12 May1999

Foreign Debt Tribunal – Verdict

The FOREIGN DEBT TRIBUNAL met from April 26th to 28th , 1999, at the João Caetano Theater in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the site where the Independence hero and martyr, Tiradentes, was hanged. Some one thousand two hundred people from various parts of Brazil and other countries around the world attended and participated in the event.

Organized by the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) and Caritas, the National Council of Christian Churches (CONIC), the Ecumenical Service Coordination Bureau (CESE), the Popular Movements Center (CMP) and the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), and the Institute of Brazilian Lawyers (IAB), with the support of CORECON/RJ, SENGE/RJ, SINDECON/RJ, IERJ, Koinonia and PACS, the Tribunal convened to hear the case of Brazil's foreign debt and to reinforce the Jubilee 2000 Campaign to cancel the debt of the most heavily indebted, lowest income countries.

Brazil, along with other Latin American and Caribbean countries, is considered an "emerging" nation with a medium income level. Its income distribution profile, however, is among the worst in the world, with one quarter of its population - that is, 40 million people - below the poverty line. The Tribunal was thus called on to identify the relationship between Brazil's foreign debt and this situation of injustice and misery. In addition to pinpointing the factors that lead to and constitute the foreign debt, and then cause it to grow out of all proportion, and to identifying those responsible for it, the purpose of the Tribunal was to define alternative policies and strategies of action for sustainable means to surmount the crisis of foreign indebtedness and its social and environmental consequences.


Since last rescheduled five years ago, Brazil's debt has increased from US$ 148 billion at year end 1994 to US$ 270 billion in March 1999, while in the same period, around US$ 126 billion was paid to foreign creditors.


Brazil's foreign debt was constituted in breach of Brazilian and international law, and without consulting the Brazilian public. It has favored the élites almost exclusively to the detriment of the majority of the population and is prejudicial to national sovereignty. It is therefore ethically, legally and politically unjust and unsustainable. In real terms it has already been paid and persists only as a mechanism for subjecting and enslaving society to the financial power of usurers and globalized capital, and for transferring wealth to the creditors. For these reasons, this Tribunal condemns the Brazilian debt process, which entails subordination to the interests of international financial capital and the wealthy countries, backed by the multilateral organizations, as grossly unjust and illegitimate. It holds the dominant élites responsible for the excessive borrowing and for having abdicated from any development plan of Brazil's own. It holds responsible the governments and politicians who support and further plans to assign Brazil a subordinate position in the globalized economy. It holds responsible those economists, jurists, artists and intellectuals who provide them with technical and ideological underpinning. It holds responsible the dictatorship of the major media that endeavor to legitimize the debt and stifle debate over alternatives. It also hereby resolves to communicate this decision to Brazil's legislative, executive and judiciary authorities at the federal, state and municipal levels, that they respect it for the legitimacy of this Tribunal's structure and social function.

Taking upon itself the hope embodied in peoples' struggles for alternatives in their livelihoods, social relations, and economic and social organization, this Tribunal proposes to all the women and men of Brazil the following commitments and strategies for action:

  • The union of all peoples in favor of a general and unrestricted canceling of the foreign debts of the most heavily indebted poor countries, the return of the wealth pillaged from them, with no conditions attached other than that the resources so saved be applied to paying off the social debts under the oversight of society itself, and that the human rights of all citizens be respected in full.
  • * An audit of the public foreign debt and of the whole process of Brazil's indebtedness, with the active participation of civil society, so as to ascertain in accounting and legal terms whether there is still debt to be paid, from whom it should be collected, and to establish democratic rules for overseeing borrowing.
  • A sovereign moratorium, denunciation of the Agreement with the IMF and redefinition of the debts in line with the audit results and with strengthening national sovereignty.
  • A development policy centered on the rights of the person and society, built chiefly on Brazil's own material and human resources, and going beyond the current logic and practice of irresponsible borrowing.
  • Firm exchange controls, which equip the government to restrain speculation and re-encourage investment in production, including effective mechanisms to control and inspect all the illegal forms in which Brazilian and foreign currencies, and goods in general, enter and leave the country.
  • The re-nationalization and democratization of strategic enterprises.
  • The rescheduling of state and municipal debts, with the resources so saved tied to repayment of social and environmental debts, and the refounding of Brazil's federative pact on a democratic, participatory basis.
  • Reinforcement of mobilizations and campaigns such as ATTAC, which demand that mechanisms be set up to regulate and tax the circulation of international speculative capital, with a view of creating a fund earmarked for restoring those most impoverished to a decent life.
  • The union of Latin America and the Caribbean peoples in support of common alternative policies and strategies for the continent, in order to confront together the vicious circle of indebtedness and the other factors of impoverishment and subordination that afflict the whole continent.
  • Participation of the Jubilee 2000 Campaign, the World Council of Churches and other Brazilian and international institutions, in a mobilization that will lead democratic States to propose to the UN General Assembly a joint suit be brought before the International Court of Justice at The Hague to judge both the processes that gave rise to and hypertrophied the foreign debt of the heavily indebted impoverished countries, and those responsible.

This Tribunal is a symbolic milestone on a long march. It therefore calls on all Brazilian men and women to join, in hope and without fear, in the initiatives that will grow out of this judgement and to continue to take their stand, in the streets and public places, until we manage to make Brazil truly a motherland for us all, one that offers to all the means to live a life of dignity and full citizenship.

This is our decision. Let it be published and proclaimed. Subscription is hereby authorized to none but all men and women of good faith. Rio de Janeiro, Tiradentes Gallows, April 28th, 1999