Sovereign Debt Repudiations: Stepping Stones in History

27 October 2017 by Eric Toussaint

From the beginning of the 19th century, many States, from Latin America to Tunisia, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, among other countries, as well as Greece, have lost their autonomy. Debt has been a weapon for domination and spoliation.

Contrary to popular belief, the peripheral indebted countries are not responsible for sovereign debt Sovereign debt Government debts or debts guaranteed by the government. crises, which most frequently have their origin in the most powerful capitalist countries, and in turn result in large-scale crises in peripheral indebted countries. It is not excessive public spending but rather the conditions enforced by creditors that cause unsustainable debts. Debt crises and their outcomes are always monitored by the major banks and the governments ruling over the most powerful economies, that support them.

Over the last two centuries, several States have successfully repudiated their public debt. Éric Toussaint analyses several examples such as in Mexico, the United States, Cuba, Russia or Costa Rica. The questioning of debt repayment has led to the development of the legal doctrine of odious debt, which permits odious debt to be identified and repudiated.

This fascinating and well documented chronology provides the necessary elements to understanding the unrelenting mechanism of the debt system and how the capitalist world has used it for two hundred years.


Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France. He is the author of Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc. See his bibliography: He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. Since the 4th April 2015 he is the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt.

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