BY SIMON CALDWELL
A LATIN AMERICAN cardinal who is emerging as one of the world’s foremost champions of the poor has piled pressure on Gordon Brown to step up the fight against global poverty.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucicalpa, Honduras, visited the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Downing Street to press him to seize an opportunity to fight poverty that has been presented by Tony Blair, who placed Africa at the top of the agenda at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in July.
Cardinal Rodriguez, who was widely considered to be one of the favourites to succeed John Paul II as pope, wanted Mr Brown to raise the issue of poverty at a June 10 meeting of G7 Finance Ministers in London, held in preparation for the summit of the leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations.
Heading a delegation of Church leaders from the Third World, he told Mr Brown on Thursday last week that the prominence given to Africa by the Prime Minister provided a “great opportunity we must not miss”.
He asked Mr Brown to support the demands by the Make Poverty History campaign on trade justice, improved aid packages to poor countries and cancellation of the debts of the world’s 27 poorest countries.
He also said it was crucial that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the eight targets adopted by the United Nations in 2000 to halve world poverty by 2015, were met and warned Mr Brown that failure might mean “poorer countries will lose hope and may be inclined to seek out other violent solutions”.
“We were delighted that he [Mr Brown] received us,” Cardinal Rodriguez said afterwards. “And we were asking him to support the campaign and persuade his colleagues to arrive at concrete results. Gordon Brown said that he was going to act accordingly at the meeting in Scotland and, of course, without concrete actions the millennium goals cannot be fulfilled.” He said cancellation of debt in particular was “totally necessary”, adding that it was a “shame that the developed world is enriching itself on the interests of the debt that has already been paid”.
Also at the meeting were Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, India; Archbishop Medardo Mazombi of Lusaka, Zambia; Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria; and Archbishop Berhenyesus Souraphiel of Addis Abeba, Ethiopia.
They were accompanied by Cardinal Cormac M u r p h y O ’ C o n n o r , Archbishop of Westminster; Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh; and Archbishop Sean Brady, Primate of all Ireland. Cardinal Rodriguez had flown to London from Berlin after a meeting with Gerhard Schroeder, the German Chancellor, also to discuss poverty. He later flew to Brussels for talks with Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission. But while the cardinal was in London, Mr Blair was in Rome where he was trying to persuade European leaders to support his proposals to give an extra £14 billion in international aid to Africa.
The Government also wants the debts of the poorest nations — totalling more than £40 billion — to be written off completely by institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It wants any new deals tied to commitments from African leaders of better governance.
At a press conference last Friday, Mr Blair insisted that the July summit presented the best chance to tackle extreme poverty. “If we do not do it this year, it will not be done, in my view,” he told reporters. “So this is the moment for decision.” Pressing for a joint world aid plan, he said that Africa was the only continent “that has gone backwards in the last 30 years”. Mr Blair will take his message to the United States, Russia, France and Germany – fellow G8 countries – in advance of the summit and will hold talks with Japanese and Canadian leaders via a video link. Britain wants to increase aid through a new International Finance Facility, a mechanism under which loans raised in international markets could be secured by pledges from the rich. The United States is opposed to the idea because it claims it is unworkable. It also disagrees with Britain’s proposal to sell unwanted IMF gold stocks. European Union development ministers last week agreed, however, to double aid to poorer nations, a move welcomed by Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor.
“More needs to be done especially for trade justice and I urge all Catholics to keep up the pressure on the world’s wealthiest governments before the Gleneagles summit in July to ensure that the money is forthcoming,” said the Cardinal.
Fiona Callister of Cafod, the overseas aid agency of the English and Welsh bishops, said that the MDGs would be reviewed by the United Nations in September. She said that they had not been met in many African countries and this made it urgent that the G8 leaders found agreement.
A Treasury spokesman said that the meeting between Mr Brown and the cardinals had been a success.
He said the delegation had been supportive of Mr Brown’s “aims at the G8 to increase aid and debt relief through the International Finance Facility”, a mechanism under which loans raised on international markets could be secured by pledges from the rich.