G-8 SHOULD BE GENEROUS TO THE POOR, BUT PROTEST
SHOULD BE NONVIOLENT
By Coretta Scott King
Civil and human rights advocate Coretta Scott King is the founder of
the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
ATLANTA -- When my husband, Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his
Nobel peace prize lecture in Oslo, Norway, back in 1964, he issued a great
challenge to the developed nations of the world. "In the final analysis,"
he said, "the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and
poor are tied together in a single garment of destiny. All life is interrelated,
and all men are interdependent. The agony of the poor diminishes the rich,
and the salvation of the poor enlarges the rich. We are inevitably our
brother's keeper because of the interrelated structure of reality."
On the eve of the G-8 Summit, I am reminded of Martin's challenge, which
seems even more relevant to our times than it was when he delivered it
more than 35 years ago. Martin saw this spirit of global compassion as
the key to creating the Beloved Community, where people of all races,
religions and nations could live together in peace, justice and harmony.
And as the G-8 leaders gather in Genoa, Italy, my prayer is that they
will open their hearts to the agony of the poor and make decisions that
lift the hopes of people struggling for a better life in impoverished
The G-8 leaders will be discussing a range of global issues, including
management of the world economy, environmental degradation, oil prices,
reducing armed conflict, violence and terrorism. But no issue cries out
for attention with more urgency than the hope-destroying poverty that
afflicts hundreds of millions of people in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean
and Latin America.
The 2000 G-8 Global Poverty Report estimated that 1.2 billion people around
the world were living on less than $1 per day, and 3 billion were living
on less than $2 per day. Most of these people live in countries that are
deeply indebted to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the
United States and other wealthy nations. The finance ministers of the
G-8 have pledged their intentions to reduce world poverty by half by 2015.
This is a good start, but surely they can do better.
A growing community of economists and human rights advocates is calling
for cancellation of the burdensome debt of the poorest nations to Western
industrialized nations as the essential first step toward eradicating
poverty. The critical condition for debt cancellation is that debtor nations
honor commitments to spend the savings on improving the health, education
and human needs of their citizens.
The countries of sub-Saharan Africa, which include 33 of the 41 countries
classified as "highly indebted," now owe more than $350 billion
in foreign debt. Some of these countries pay as much as 40 percent of
their collective annual budgets just for interest on the debt. The poorest
countries spend more paying interest on their debts than on primary health
care or education. In Zambia, for example, interest payments on this debt
now exceed the national budget for health and education combined. In South
America, Bolivia spends three times the amount of its health-care budget
on servicing the debt. It is estimated that 19,000 children worldwide
die every day as a direct result of the debt crisis, according to Christian
Aid, 2000, a humanitarian relief group based in the United Kingdom.
The debt is arguably the greatest obstacle in addressing the AIDS pandemic,
as it spreads throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where 80 percent of the world's
3 million AIDS victims died last year. The G-8 Summit estimates that the
new Global AIDS Fund will require $15 billion to mount an effective fight
against AIDS, and accelerated debt relief is an essential part of this
The G-8 nations have made commitments to total debt cancellation, but
the timetable must be speeded up to save lives. The IMF and the World
Bank, however, have only agreed to cancel one-third of the debts owed
by poor countries. The G-8 nations hold nearly half of the board seats
on these two organizations. Clearly, the wealthy nations must do more
to alleviate the debt. As former South African President Nelson Mandela
said, "Debt cancellation must go deeper and be delivered more quickly."
It is expected that the G-8 Summit will be greeted by massive protests,
which is understandable, given the global impact of the summit's decisions.
The protesters are rightly concerned that the summit should be more inclusive
of developing nations and the proceedings should be open to public scrutiny,
and their concerns deserve a respectful hearing. The right of protest
is a sacred human right. But I believe it also entails a responsibility
to carry out the protest in the spirit of nonviolence.
The success of the Genoa summit will depend in large measure on the abilities
of the G-8 leaders to envision their national interest in the context
of global justice. Ultimately, a stronger commitment to alleviate poverty,
hunger and human suffering around the world will not only empower developing
countries to become more self-sufficient, but also expand markets and
open up new opportunities for the G-8 countries as well.
Blessed with abundant, God-given resources, the wealthy nations must now
reach out with a courageous spirit of generosity to help the suffering
millions of the impoverished countries. As Martin Luther King Jr. said,
"The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop
the underdeveloped, school the unschooled and feed the unfed." If
the G-8 Summit will accept this challenge, these nations can light the
way to a glorious new era of hope, healing and prosperity for all humankind.
(c) 2001, Coretta Scott King. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 7/17/01)