The viral debt trap

April 20, 2020

The International Monetary Fund is giving itself a pat on the back for approving “immediate debt service relief” to 25 of the poorest countries in the world because of the coronavirus pandemic. It made the announcement on April 13.

But don’t cheer for the imperialist bankers. What these impoverished countries need is not “debt service relief,” but reparations for the centuries of outright robbery committed by the colonial and neocolonial powers that control the IMF.

First of all, these global bankers know that during this global health crisis they can’t squeeze any more wealth out of these 25 impoverished countries without totally destroying them. So they’ll temporarily stretch out the exorbitant interest they charge for “debt service,” rather than risk plunging these countries into economic collapse.

Just why are these countries so poor in the first place? The answer is that they have a long history of being robbed of their resources and labor — first by the colonial, and now neocolonial, capitalist powers of Europe and the U.S.

Take Kenya, for example. Not one of the 25 poorest, it is an African country with rich resources taken over officially by British imperialists 135 years ago in 1885. After a long struggle Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963, but its economy was still tied to imperialism through “debts” incurred by colonial rulers.

Kenya’s 2005-06 budget for “debt payments” was as much as it spent on water, health, agriculture, roads, transport and finance combined! And these payments are never-ending. The debt trap is an endless cash cow for bankers in the oppressor countries.

The truth is that Kenya doesn’t “owe” Britain anything. It is the British ruling class that owes the people of Kenya for all the wealth extracted by that rich colonial power.

South Africa has a history of being colonized by both the Dutch and the British. Brutal racist rule under apartheid persisted until 1994. But when the African National Congress finally took over the South African government, it was stuck with “debt” of $22 billion that had been loaned, not to the people of South Africa, but to the apartheid regime that oppressed them. The ANC-led government has been forced to pay on this “debt” ever since.

It is in the interests of workers everywhere to demand that these “debts” be canceled. Money stolen from poor countries only strengthens the class that exploits and oppresses us, too.

International working-class solidarity, not the International Monetary Fund’s “debt service relief,” is the only way to cancel the blood-sucking system that creates debt in the first place.