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Caribbean Bishops and Development Groups Urge Debt Relief for Irma-Struck Islands
by Abby Wilhelm
Thursday Sep 14th, 2017 9:25 AM
On behalf of Caribbean Catholic Bishops, Bishop Gabriel Malzaire called for islands dealing with Hurricane Irma to receive debt relief.
As president of the Antilles Episcopal Conference, Malzaire joins US, European and Caribbean development groups that are calling for debt payments to be delayed until affected islands can rebuild.

"The utter destruction caused by the passage of Hurricane Irma across the Northern Leeward Islands has not only shocked the people of our region by its severity but has left all of us with a much deeper awareness of our vulnerability to natural disasters and with a fear of threats from other approaching weather systems," wrote Malzaire in a letter to Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund. The Catholic Bishop continued his plea for a delay in debt payments until countries like Antigua and Barbuda can recover. "The sad reality is that the ones who are affected most, the poor, cannot be held responsible for this reality," continued the Catholic Bishop in his urgent request for a delay of debt payments.

Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean devastating a host of islands including Antigua and Barbuda, St. Martin and the US and British Virgin Islands. On September 7th, Jubilee USA launched a petition and sent a letter to the IMF requesting a delay in debt payments or a debt moratorium for islands so they can rebuild. Calls for a debt moratorium were also sent from the Jubilee Caribbean Network, Jubilee Germany, the United Kingdom's Jubilee Debt Campaign and the European Network on Debt and Development.

"When a natural disaster strikes, delaying debt payments is a quick way to get funding for rebuilding," said Eric LeCompte who is the Executive Director of the religious development group, Jubilee USA. LeCompte serves on United Nation expert groups that focus on debt. "The International Monetary Fund and other creditors can delay debt payments and ensure faster recovery for a country like Antigua and Barbuda."

Antigua and Barbuda's Prime Minister estimated about 150 million dollars for reconstruction efforts on the islands. As the hurricane passed last week, the disaster-struck island had a 3 million dollar debt payment to the IMF due.