CANCELLING ALL the debts of countries hit by the disaster is the minimum that Western governments could do. But they won’t.
Instead money that should help save lives and reconstruct shattered communities will go to line the bankers’ pockets.
Indonesia’s foreign debt is $150 billion, equal to 65 percent of its GDP. About half is owed to the Paris Club of rich nations who police Third World debt. The rest is to private banks and institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.
The Indonesian government is due to set aside some $14 billion in repayments in 2004, roughly half its projected tax revenues for the year.
Much of the debt was run up by the despotic Suharto regime, which was installed and supported by the West.
Sri Lanka is saddled with $10.1 billion debt.
Several countries have talked about debt relief after the disaster. But even this apparent generosity is very limited.
Canadian foreign minister Pierre Pettigrew has made it clear that his “debt relief” proposals are for a pause in payments, not the elimination of the debt.
This is likely to be the line adopted by other governments.
And some countries, such as Thailand, have feared to ask for debt relief in case it draws them into a process where they will be forced to accept even greater controls on their economic policies.
Aid from Bush and Blair will come with conditions. They may not be explicit, but they will be there. For example, as part of its “humanitarian assistance” the US military announced it was returning to the Utapao Royal Thai Naval Air Force Base 90 miles south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand.
The stated aim was to set up a “command centre” for emergency relief. In reality it will mean an intensified US presence.
During the Vietnam War Utapao functioned as a major staging base for B-52s carrying out bombing raids.
The US Navy is also dispatching the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and the USS Bonhomme Richard expeditionary strike group to the immediate area offshore of the base.
Malawian anti-debt activist Mzimasi Makiniki told Socialist Worker, “Some people say that if Asia has its debts cancelled then Africa will lose out.
“But the debts must be cancelled across the world. There was not a limited pot of money when it came to war in Iraq.”