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Political Charter of CADTM International
by CADTM International
23 November 2021

(Version discussed and approved at the World Assembly of the CADTM network on 15 November 2021 in Dakar and edited by the joint international secretariat of the CADTM network)



In 1989, the Bastille Appeal was launched in Paris. It invited popular movements throughout the world to unite in demanding the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the debt of the so-called developing countries. This crushing debt, along with the neo-liberal macro-economic reforms imposed on the South since the debt crisis of 1982, had led to the explosion of inequality, mass poverty, flagrant injustice and the destruction of the environment. It was in response to this appeal, and in order to fight against the overall degradation of living conditions of the majority of peoples, that the CADTM was founded in 1990.

Nowadays, CADTM International is a network of more than 30 active organisations in over 30 countries across four continents, namely Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe. Focusing as it does on debt and debt-related issues, its main action aims at elaborating and achieving radical popular alternatives resulting in a world based on sovereignty, solidarity and cooperation between peoples, respect for the environment, equality, social justice and peace.

 Political Charter

1. Debt as a device to transfer wealth and as a tool of political domination

In both the North and the South, debt is one of the devices used to transfer the wealth created by workers and small producers to the capitalists. Public debt is used by the creditors as an instrument of political and economic domination that establishes a new form of colonisation, with the local ruling classes taking their commission in the process. Abusive private debts claimed from the popular classes are a tool of dispossession and oppression.

2. Immediate and unconditional cancellation of public debt in countries of the South

The CADTM’s main objective is the immediate and unconditional cancellation of public debt of countries of the South and the abandonment of structural adjustment policies. Despite their vast natural and human resources, the people of the South are being bled dry. In most countries of the South, the amount spent each year in repayment of public debt comes to more than that spent on education, health, rural development and job creation all together. The debt relief initiatives of recent years have been a mere mockery, as the stringent conditions they come with do more harm than good to the countries which are supposed to be the “beneficiaries”.

3. Abolition of all odious, illegal and illegitimate public debts in countries of the North

The CADTM also aims for the abolition of all odious, illegal, illegitimate and unsustainable public debts in countries of the North.

In the economies of the most industrialised countries, public debt has risen sharply since 2008, first as a result of the multiple bailouts of large private banks, and then because of massive public interventions in the management of the pandemic in 2020-2021. In addition, in the neoliberal political context, enormous tax gifts to a tiny minority including the richest people and large corporations have forced states to borrow heavily in order to balance deficits. The neoliberal offensive that shut down central bank funding for governments and public authorities, who as a consequence had to turn to private banks and the financial markets, has increased the cost of financing public debt. Public debt serves as a pretext for the pursuit of neoliberal policies that deteriorate social services and reduce social spending and public investment. This leads both to the degradation of living conditions of the overwhelming majority of the population and to a sharp increase in inequalities.

Since the early 1970s in the South and the 1980s in the North, ruling classes have succeeded in undermining workers’ social achievements and their direct and indirect wages. Through a strategy of repeated skirmishes, an ever-increasing part of the value produced by the working population has been clawed back by the ruling classes. Such attacks on the progressive and highly civilising social advances won through hard struggle up until the 1970s are unfair, immoral and reprehensible. We will strive to cancel those setbacks enforced by Capital in its offensive against Labour. The CADTM will support, and participate in, any social movement, organisation and/or trade union that acts to stop and reverse the dismantling of social achievements by the ruling classes, so as to restore what was lost and extend basic human and social rights to all spheres of human activity.

The multidimensional crisis of the capitalist system is manifesting itself in increasingly dramatic forms: the health crisis, the ecological crisis, the economic crisis, the rise of racism. Those crises first affect the popular classes. The negative effects are aggravated by the prolonged implementation of neo-liberal policies carried out under the pretext of debt repayment. Fundamental individual and collective freedoms are increasingly being violated. Freedom of movement, freedom of demonstrating, organizing and protesting, freedom of opinion and expression are particularly targeted.

4. CADTM international aims at achieving the following

In pursuit of the abolition of all illegitimate public debt in the North and in the South, CADTM International attempts to achieve the following:

a. Develop processes of popular education, raised awareness and self-organization of indebted peoples;
b. Set up debt audits, with citizen participation, aimed at rejecting all odious and illegitimate debt;
c. Prompt governments to make unilateral and sovereign decisions to cease repaying their debt, restructure or repudiate it to promote social justice;
d. Have them break off agreements with the IMF and the World Bank;
e. Establish a united front of countries that cease debt repayments;
f. Gain recognition for the Doctrine of Odious Debt in international law;
g. Urge refusal of any conditions that lenders seek to impose;
h. Help citizens of the countries of the South to recover assets formerly embezzled by corrupt leaders of the South with the complicity of banks and governments of the North;
i. Demand that Northern powers pay unconditional reparations to the countries of the South in the name of historic, social and ecological debt accumulated towards the countries of the South;
j. Take legal action against the international financial institutions;
k. Recover the costs of nationalising bankrupt private banks from the assets of the large shareholders and directors;
l. Replace the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO by democratic institutions which prioritise the fulfilment of fundamental human rights in the fields of development finance, credit and international trade.
m. Terminate all political, military or economic agreements (so-called free-trade, investment and partnership agreements) which endanger the sovereignty of peoples and perpetuate the mechanism of dependence.
n. Put an end to the military presence of imperialist powers such as the USA or France in Africa and anywhere else.

Considering the crimes against humanity that were perpetrated including colonial plundering and the slave trade, we demand compensations and the restitution of stolen cultural goods and resources, as well as full formal apologies, not some vague “regrets” that some countries have paid lip service to.

5. Challenging illegitimate private debts claimed from the popular classes

It is also essential to challenge illegitimate private debts claimed from the popular classes. Excessive or usurious indebtedness existed long before the capitalist system but was reinforced in a sophisticated way with the development of capitalism. This is the case in the current neoliberal phase, which is forcing more and more households into debt in order to access services such as education, health, housing, energy, etc., that are not or no longer fully provided by the public sector as their social nature would require.

Private debt has been used for millennia as a mechanism to dispossess peasants of their land and dispossess artisans of their means of production. Slavery due to debt was rife throughout the ancient world for centuries. The system of illegitimate private debt usually imposes conditions of borrowing that make repayment impossible. This results in dispossession (dispossession of homesteads, land, tools) and/or the obligation to devote long years, or even decades, to repayment.

The extension of precarious contracts and the pervasiveness of subcontracting are some of the measures implemented by large companies to increase their profits at all costs. There is a huge army of workers who are exploited, deprived of rights, who live in precarious conditions and are employed as long as strictly necessary, outside any stable labour relationship, without a decent contract or wages, without paid holidays, without sick pay or the right to strike.

For all of them, borrowing has become a necessity now even in rich Western economies. The struggles against these illegitimate private debts have been going on for centuries and continue today, for example through:

a. peasant struggles for the cancellation of exorbitant debts in India;
b. the struggles of brick factory workers in Pakistan against new forms of debt-bondage;
c. women’s struggles against extortionate micro credit schemes in Morocco, Sri Lanka, Colombia and Bangladesh;
d. student struggles with the burden of student debt in the United States, Chile, Canada, South Africa or the United Kingdom;
e. the struggles of households that are victims of excessive mortgage loans and of the financialisation of housing, resulting in evictions for default in Spain, the United States, Greece, Ireland, etc.

6. Legitimate public debt should fund an ambitious ecologist-feminist-socialist transition programme

Public borrowing is legitimate if it benefits legitimate projects and if lenders act with sincerity. Central banks in each country must be allowed to grant loans at zero interest rate to public authorities. Moreover, a popular government will not hesitate to force big companies (foreign or domestic) and the richest households to contribute to the loan without profiteering from it, that is to say, at zero interest rate and without having to pay compensation for inflation. At the same time, a large part of the working class households who have savings would be offered publicly guaranteed savings and investment schemes tied to funding the legitimate projects mentioned below. This voluntary funding by the working class would be remunerated at a positive real rate. The mechanism would be highly legitimate because it would fund socially useful projects, and would also reduce and redistribute the wealth of the wealthiest while increasing the income of the labouring classes and securing their savings.

Public debt could be used to finance an ambitious programme for an ecologist-feminist, socialist transition, instead of enforcing productivist, extractivist and anti-social policies that favour competition between peoples. Public authorities may contract debts to

a. socialise social reproduction activities through developing free public services (education, health care, culture, etc.);
b. finance the complete shutdown of thermal and nuclear plants;
c. replace fossil energies with renewable energies that respect the environment;
d. ensure food sovereignty and finance the conversion of the current farming system, which significantly contributes to the environmental crisis, so that farming becomes compatible with struggle against climate change and promotion of biodiversity by favouring an agro-ecological model and short circuits;
e. radically reduce road and air transport and develop collective transport by rail;
f. finance an ambitious programme of better quality housing that requires less energy;
g. put an end to discrimination and to the criminalisation of migrants as well as provide proper financing for a decent welcoming policy for migrants in full respect of the human rights of movement and settlement..

7. Cancelling illegitimate debt is not an end in itself

For the CADTM, cancelling illegitimate public debt is not an end in itself. It is a necessary but insufficient condition for ensuring the fulfilment of human rights. Thus it is necessary to look beyond the cancellation of illegitimate public debt to achieve a form of social justice that is environmentally sound. Debt is part of a system that must be fought as a whole. Together with debt cancellation, other radical alternatives must be brought into play. These include such measures as:

a. Eliminating hunger, poverty and inequality;
b. Guaranteeing women’s self-determination, which they claim through their struggles for emancipation from the prevailing extractivist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal system;
c. Effectively eradicating gender inequalities in all spheres of life, through such approaches as positive discrimination and popular education;
d. Promoting genuine freedom and equality for all in order to achieve a radical reorganisation of the structures of power and representation;
e. Imposing new financial discipline by re-instating strict regulation of the flow of capital and goods, taxing capital (global taxes, wealth taxes), lifting bank secrecy and banning tax havens, speculation and usury;
f. Putting a stop to Official Development Assistance in its current form since it is basically an instrument of domination to the almost exclusive profit of countries of the North, and replacing it with an unconditional ‘reparation and solidarity contribution’ in the form of grants independent of any other debt cancellations and would truly serve the interests of the receiving populations of the South, the level of these grants should be raised to 1% of the Gross Domestic Product of the most industrialised countries;
g. Mobilising resources that do not generate indebtedness;
h. Implementing alternatives that liberate all men, women and children from all forms of oppression, whether social, patriarchal, neo-colonial, racial, caste-based, political, cultural, sexual or religious;
i. Implementing an ambitious environmental policy aimed at countering climate change;
j. Ensuring economic, political and food sovereignty for peoples;
k. Prohibiting patents on living organisms and banning all private patents on knowledge, technology, treatments and vaccines;
l. Achieving demilitarisation on a global scale;
m. Placing a ban on nuclear power, whether used for civil or military purposes; contrary to what is claimed by capitalist propaganda, this energy is in no way a solution for the climate and represents a great danger for the planet; the environmental, sanitary and political costs of its exploitation for local populations are exorbitant and the radioactive waste it generates - and which we do not know how to process - is an outrageous ecological debt imposed on future generations; moreover, as a tool of imperialist domination, nuclear power is a major obstacle to world peace;
n. Ensuring people’s right to move and settle freely;
o. Affirming the superiority of human rights over commercial law, and obliging governments, international financial institutions and companies to respect the various international instruments in force, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948), the Convention on the Political Rights of Women (1952), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966), the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1981), the Declaration on the Right to Development (DRD, 1986), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and its additional protocols; the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990), the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998) and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (2018), the UN treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights (2019, still being finalised ). Implementing the UN Secretary-General’s bulletin on special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (2003 bulletin, ST/SGB/2003/13);
p. Ensuring people’s sovereignty over their lives and their future, which means placing natural resources in the public domain, together with the results of Research & Development, other common assets of humanity and strategic sectors of the economy such as the production and distribution of energies (in order to combat the ecological crisis), the banks and insurance companies (to create a public service for borrowing, savings, investment and insurance) and other sectors that are of vital importance to society.

8. It is imperative to get rid of the capitalist system

The CADTM clearly states that in order to move towards a socially fair and environmentally sustainable society, it is imperative to get rid of the capitalist system and to build a world in which the fulfilment of social and environmental needs determines political decisions.
We must fight the capitalist system which for two centuries since the beginning of the industrial revolution, has crushed people and been the global cause of a disastrous environmental crisis.

a. The capitalist system sees nature as resources to be exploited, commodified and privatised for maximum profit.
b. The capitalist system compels many countries and their peoples to extract their raw materials and to produce commodities for export markets at the lowest possible price.
c. The capitalist system pushes countries and peoples to grow agricultural products that they do not consume and to consume goods they do not produce.
d. The capitalist system develops nuclear power plants, against which we are fighting.
e. The capitalist system thrives on the weapons industry.
f. The capitalist system maintains and reinforces the exploitation and oppression of women and LGBTQI+
g. The capitalist system goes hand in hand with the debt system.

9. People must not be liberated they must liberate themselves

To bring about such changes and to achieve social emancipation, CADTM International believes that it is for the people themselves to rise to the challenge. What they need is not to be liberated, but to liberate themselves. Furthermore, experience has shown that privileged minorities cannot be counted on to take responsibility for people’s well-being. Reinforcing movements that contribute to social emancipation is a priority for the CADTM. The CADTM cooperates with all structures and movements that fight violence, harassment, and all forms of discrimination against women, LGBTQI+ and all oppressed minorities. Taking an internationalist approach, it is helping to build a broad-based movement which is popular, aware, critical and mobilised. Firm in the belief that the world’s struggles for emancipation must converge, CADTM International supports all organisations and coalitions, all mobilisations which work towards equality, social justice, the end of patriarchy and of capitalism, the conservation of nature and peace.

CADTM International