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US Congress approves debt-relief plan for Haiti

Published:Thursday | April 15, 2010 | 4:00 AM

WASHINGTON, DC (AP):

Congress is calling for the United States to take the lead in relieving earthquake-shattered Haiti of its debts to international institutions.

The House approved by voice vote yesterday and sent to President Barack Obama legislation that instructs US directors at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other global development institutions to use their votes and influence to cancel Haiti's debt.

Debt relief is one of several approaches to helping Haiti recover from the January earthquake that took an estimated 230,000 lives.

Congress is considering legislation that would provide some US$2.8 billion in new aid and the United Nations recently hosted a donors' conference where nearly 50 nations pledged about US$9.9 billion in assistance.

The debt-relief bill, passed earlier by the Senate, would urge the immediate and complete cancellation of all debt owed by Haiti to multinational institutions. It would also recommend that for the next five years, aid to Haiti be provided as grants rather than loans.

"There are many of us who look at this earthquake as opportunity," said Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat from California and sponsor of the measure. "We believe that there is now a real commitment by the world community to come to the aid of Haiti."

The Treasury said that at the beginning of March, Haiti owed US$828 million to multilateral development institutions. Since then, the Inter-American Development Bank, which the Treasury said was owed some US$447 million, announced it would forgive all of Haiti's debt and convert undisbursed loans to the country into grants.