Jérôme Duval is an activist of the CADTM, the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (Comité pour l’Annulation de la Dette du Tiers Monde), created in 1990 in Liège, Belgium, today become a global network. CADTM was notably involved in the audit of public debt in Ecuador and the Parliamentary Commission for the truth on the public debt in Greece, and participated in movements against odious debts in many countries. He agreed to answer our questions on the eve of the World Assembly of the network, which will be held in late April in Tunis. - Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik/Tlaxcala
What are the main objectives of CADTM?
As stated in our founding documents, CADTM is committed to promoting the emergence of a more just world with respect for the sovereignty of peoples, social justice, and equality between men and women. Our main work, focused on the problem of debt, is the realization of actions and the development of radical alternatives aiming at the emergence of a world based on sovereignty, solidarity and cooperation between peoples, respect for nature, equality, social justice and peace. This is an attempt to stop the downward spiral of unsustainable debt in the South and the North and to achieve the establishment of socially just and environmentally sustainable development models.
Debt is part of a system that must be fought as a whole but for CADTM, the cancellation of illegitimate debt is not an end in itself. This is a necessary, but not sufficient condition, to ensure that needs and human rights are respected. We must necessarily go beyond this and implement other radical alternatives which free humanity from all forms of oppression: social, patriarchal, neo-colonial, racial, caste, political, cultural, sexual and religious.
Can you explain to our readers the term "illegitimate debt"?
Illegitimate debt is not a technical or legal, but a political concept. An illegitimate debt is a debt that goes against the interests of the population, who is therefore not required to repay it. The Greek Debt Truth Commission established by the President of the Hellenic Parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou to identify the parts of the Greek public debt which are odious, illegal, illegitimate and unsustainable, defines the concept:
"Illegitimate debt is a debt that the debtor can not be required to repay due to the fact that the loan, financial securities, warranty or terms and conditions attached to the loan are contrary to law (both national and international) or the general interest; or because these terms are clearly unjust, excessive, abusive or objectionable in any way; or because the conditions attached to the loan, to the warranty, contain policy measures that violate national law or standards of human rights; or in the end because the loan or the guarantee is not used to benefit people or the debt is the product of a conversion of private (or commercial) debt to public debt under pressure from creditors."
It is important to remember that this definition is based on the general principles of international law. It is this concept that draws many social movements to demand the non-payment of any debt considered illegitimate, and it represents a very large part of the public debt of our states in whose name the authorities apply antisocial austerity policies.
What are the key aspects of oppression at the collective level?
We live in a world of wars for grabbing natural resources and land, where profit is pursued by the few at the expense of all others. This world generates growing inequalities and exclusions, wars and famines. It is based on the systematic exploitation of our labour force, manipulation of thought through our educational system and media and physical repression of dissent. This oppression is surreptitiously interfering in our daily life to become the norm, until the real war in Algeria no longer appears in French history textbooks or a so-called "bailout" for one State is one that actually consists in saving private banks. The citizens become mere consumers will be made feel guilty to reduce their energy costs with low energy light bulbs, while energy-intensive video screens are installed in the subway to flood us with advertising. In a world where we are pushed towards the over-consumption of over-packaged goods, we are encouraged to recycle our garbage while industrialized countries export their toxic waste to poor countries and they continue to promote the nuclear weapons and chemicals that may well turn the world into a massive wasteland.
Greece, Ukraine, Puerto Rico, Egypt
How can people emancipate themselves, and how can we fight against oppression of all kinds?
I do not believe in miracle recipes because it depends on the social and political context and ultimately the balance of power, but solidarity between peoples and self-emancipatory action are two essential factors. But in the capitalist world in which we live, private interests are exacerbated for greater competitiveness between companies and people. You have to understand capitalism as a destructive and deadly system, at the antipodes of life, a system that dehumanizes and privatize everything. From the water that quenches our thirst to our future retirement, everything becomes merchandise. It is therefore essential to humanize our everyday relationships, to socialize knowledge and reinforce experiences and expressions of resistance that multiply away from the big media debates. We must ourselves be the media if we want to relate the many victories of local struggles that are not relayed and are even stifled by large private media groups These pieces of good news (see for example the website Bonnes nouvelles in French), as small as they are, show us every day that alternatives are possible, they work towards the demolition of the capitalist dogma that there are no alternatives, the famous TINA (Margaret Thatcher's 'There is no alternative") must die. This vital and subversive information can encourage and gather us to broaden the circles resistant to the oppressive capitalist order. Of course this is not obvious, but as Antonio Gramsci said, "We must combine the pessimism of reason with the optimism of the will." We must recover continually diverted words so as to adapt to the system we are fighting, to speak, to create, to resist together, to finally live in the present. Empowering people through their class consciousness, their unification as a " people-class ", of the 99% against the 1% who exploit them, but awareness can not take place without free speech in action.
26 years of struggle
Tell us about the CADTM network
In 1989, the "call of the Bastille" launched in Paris affirmed that "only the solidarity of people can break the power of economic imperialism" and invited all popular forces of the world to unite for the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the debt of so-called "developing" countries. In response to this appeal, the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) was founded in Belgium on the 15th of March 1990. CADTM International is now a network of around thirty organisations in over 25 countries on 4 continents. Every three years to coordinate its international and continental work, CADTM holds its World Assembly. The next meeting will be held in Tunis from 26th to 30th April 2016. RAID ATTAC Tunisia, a member of the network, offered to host the World Assembly of CADTM in their country since the Moroccan authorities have refused to give their approval to organize this international activity in Morocco as was originally planned.1 By refusing to acknowledge reception of files disposed at prefectures of the cities of Ait Melloul and Bouznika, Morocco sinks into the undemocratic way. This prohibition worthy of a totalitarian regime is in addition to continuing restrictions plaguing the ATTAC CADTM Morocco association and the refusal to renew it's legal receipt in order to operate in accordance with the law.
The World Assembly of the network is an important moment of the committee where we collectively decide on the new memberships of organizations that have requested it. We will without doubt propose a name change for the organization as the "Third World" is no longer the preserve of a distant South, it is now spreading across the globe starting with Greece and Ukraine in Europe. Also we are developing intensive work in the North and are for example particularly attentive to the emergence of new social movements that want to audit the debt to repudiate payment like in Spain and we are continuing our work of auditing Greek debt. There is no such thing as the developed world and the underdeveloped world but only one badly developed world, the CETIM reminds us.2
The strengthening of social movements is a priority for CADTM. It participates, in an internationalist perspective, in the building of a broad popular movement that is conscious, critical and mobilized. Convinced of the need to unite struggles for emancipation, CADTM International supports all organizations and coalitions which work towards equality, social justice, preservation of nature and peace.
And what about the debt of the USA, which is the biggest in the world, with more than 18,000 billion dollars?
The US debt was increased to save the banks with a supposed "rescue" plan of more than 3,300 billion uncollected dollars between 2008 and 2013 and these same banks have evicted more than 14 million families from their homes since 2005. That said, there are fundamental differences with the debt of other countries. If the US is the most indebted in the world, at the amount of more than 19,000 billion at the beginning of March, 2016 (or 103% of GDP), the stakes are not the same as for other countries impoverished by the "debt system" for several reasons.
Let us have a brief flashback. At the end of the Second World War, the USA established themselves as the largest creditor of the world. As the principal world economic power of the capitalist system, they control the major international financial institutions which indebt the entire planet like the IMF and the World Bank, sitting in Washington where the US enjoy a veto. In addition, the US does not need large foreign reserves as the world accepts the dollar as the international currency of payment, another fundamental privilege.
Furthermore, the titles of the public debt of some developed countries such as US Treasury bonds are assets considered as less risky, and easily find takers. This is the case of China, which holds $1,240 billion, and Japan. What is less well known, is that this is also the case in many African countries and Russia has increased its investment in 2015 and happens to be the 15th holder of US debt to the tune of $92 billion. If the US manage to hold this level of debt that exceeds 19,000 billion dollars, that is to say, nearly 10 times the overall total public external debt of developing countries (1,800 billion dollars), it is because the rest of the world lends them money. So as the Treasury bills have a good rating from the private rating agencies (Fitch Ratings, Standard & Poor's and Moody's,3) remunerated and controlled by them, the US can continue to borrow cheaply and thus finance their deficit.
Moreover, the US has the ability to borrow from the Federal Reserve (FED, equivalent of a central bank). Thus, of the total public debt (19,000 billion), 5,300 million represents the national debt of the government to the FED. Remember that this option is banned within the European Union where Member States are not allowed to borrow from their national central banks or the European Central Bank and have no other solution than to borrow at high rates with private banks, which themselves receive very cheap money from ECB. A lucrative business for banks...
Finally, one can not ignore private student debt based on an unaffordable private education system. Student debt in the US now represents more than 1,200 billion dollars. This figure is well above the total of the accumulated public external debt of Latin America and Africa. At the end of their studies, many unemployed students are trapped in suffocating debt, $35,000 on average in 2015. A debt that they are struggling to pay sometimes even up to the age of retirement. The Strike Debt citizen collective federates the indebted students and supports them in their fight against the banks.
1 ATTAC/CADTM Morocco, "Moroccan authorities refuse to endorse the ATTAC Morocco Association to organize the World Assembly of the CADTM network", 22nd March 2016. http://cadtm.org/Les-autorites-marocaines- refusent
2 CETIM: http://www.cetim.ch/presentation-du-cetim/
3 These agencies are responsible for assessing the risk of non-repayment of the debt of a state, region, municipality or company to advise investors. As a reminder, four days before the collapse of Enron in 2001, these agencies had assigned it the highest rating, ditto on the eve of the Lehman Brothers crisis...