Jubilee aims to help poor countries

The Jubilee USA Network says it is gaining strength in San Diego where a local chapter is working to convince the federal government to drop the debt owed the U.S. by the world’s poorest countries.

Local Jubilee chapter leaders the Rev. Bill Harman and Jean O’Leary said more than 1 billion people are living on less than a dollar a day and yet poor countries are forced to pay wealthy countries $100 million a day for debt service. It’s the Jubilee movement’s goal to cancel countries’ debts to the U.S. by passing the Jubilee Act in Congress.

Harman became involved in the Jubilee movement in 1998 and said he began to understand why countries were unable to pull themselves out of poverty— for every $1 of aid received, countries were having to send back $1.50 in interest payments.

“It made no sense,” said Harman. “It reminded me of the song from my youth ‘There’s a Hole in the Bucket.’ All the money going in the top was going out the interest hole in the bottom. With all the debt, they will never see progress.”

By wiping out debt, it allows poor countries to access their own resources to work on poverty problems and build their nation, according to Jubilee. Since 2005, 26 countries have had their debt canceled.

The bill Jubilee is working to pass is officially titled the “Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation.” In San Diego, the local chapter has extensively lobbied the city’s five members of Congress. Bob Filner and Susan Davis have given their support, but three have not: Duncan D. Hunter, Darrell Issa and Brian Bilbray.

The group will rally at Bilbray’s office in Solana Beach at noon on Feb. 15.

O’Leary said they’ve been trying very hard to get Bilbray on board. “We just keep on going,” he said. “We have nothing to lose.”

The origins of the Jubilee movement are in the Old Testament of the Bible, where in the year of Jubilee, people enslaved because of debts were released. The Jubilee Network takes on that theme of debt-cancellation, and, because of its religious roots, it draws a lot of support from churches and synagogues, O’Leary said.

“Yes, it’s a political issue, but it’s a personal faith and justice issue for most,” O’Leary said.

The local chapter meets from noon to 2 p.m. the second Tuesday of every month at the Fish Market restaurant in Del Mar.

Harman was influential in bringing Jubilee to San Diego. He has done missionary and international development work for 35 years, spending time in East Africa, Haiti, Indonesia, India and the Caribbean islands, focusing on issues surrounding extreme poverty.

“We had been successful on a micro level but not a macro level,” Harman said. “There is a perpetual slice of the world stuck in extreme poverty.”

Harman gives the timely example of Haiti. When it became an independent country from France in 1805, it started out in debt. Harman said the country was only able to repay that 1805 debt to France in 1947. That longtime debt has led to a very underdeveloped Haiti, he said.

Haiti still has a significant amount of debt. The country was scheduled to repay

$50 million to the United States this year, a debt that has since been cancelled, he said. After January’s destructive earthquake, Jubilee USA called on the Obama administration to provide massive assistance for relief and reconstruction in the form of grants, not loans.

“Before I die,” said Harman. “I want to see results for my anti-poverty efforts.”

To learn more about Jubilee USA’s efforts, visit jubileeusa.

org or e-mail jeanoleary@