DVD and DVD + 3-Year Site/Local Streaming
45 minutes, 2005 Directed and written by Erling Borgen English
ABOUT THE FILM
The Debt of Dictators is the first film to expose the nefarious lending of billions of dollars by multinational banks and international financial institutions to brutal dictators throughout the world. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, asserts that transnational banks “know the price of everything, but have no values”. Debt of Dictators reveals the impoverishment resulting from the odious debts incurred to multinational lending institutions by these dictators. The film transports viewers to Argentina, South Africa, and the Philippines, where they come face to face with those suffering from the sacrifice of essential social services in order to repay these illegitimate debts.
The film begins in the slums of Buenos Aires, where the poor and starving are seen digging through trash, searching for food. While Argentina used to be the seventh richest country in the world, today nearly 50% of the population lives below the poverty line and close to sixty children die from poverty related causes everyday. One reason for this is the $168 billion in foreign debt accrued by the military junta that came to power in the 1976 coup. More than 70,000 people were brutally tortured, killed, or disappeared during this rule. In spite of this, major banks and lending institutions lined up to offer loans to the military leaders, increasing the Argentine debt by 600%. Today the Argentine government pays more in interest to service these loans than it does on health, education, and welfare combined.
The filmmakers next go inside today’s South Africa and find conditions of abject poverty, worsened by debt incurred by the Apartheid regime, largely to prop up the apartheid machinery. Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 which began the country's transition from apartheid; meanwhile the nation's debt to international banks was $21 billion. The present South African government is determined to repay these debts in order to continue to attract foreign investment. Since 1994 the South African government has spent more than 500 billion rand servicing foreign debt and more than five times as much as on essential services. Furthermore, the privatization of essential services required by international lending agencies such as the IMF has exponentially raised prices, thereby restricting access to essentials such as water and electricity by the nation’s poor.
Finally, the viewer is transported to the slums of Manila, where children who cannot afford to go to school are shown peddling trinkets in the town market. They live in shacks with no water or electricity, lacking even basic health services. After Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1976, imprisoning, torturing, and killing more than 30,000 in the process, lending institutions still lined up to offer loans, resulting in the more than $56 billion in foreign debt currently owed by the Philippines. Most of the money was spent personally enriching Marcos and his cronies for commissioning projects in exchange for kickbacks, which were useless, and often never completed. 70% of the Philippine population now lives below the poverty line and nearly 1/3 of all children suffer from malnutrition. One third of the national budget has been allocated to service this debt, largely to avoid investigation which might reveal the ‘disappearance’ of the borrowed funds into the pockets of those previously aligned with Marcos’ regime, who are still in the Congress.
The film makes clear that multinational lending institutions systematically subverted human rights and democratic principles to profits and the imposition of neo-liberal economic policies. As activists, including representatives of the Jubilee Campaign, vehemently argue in the film, the time has come to forgive these unjust debts in order to ameliorate the suffering of the world’s poor, who are unwitting victims of the relationships fostered by corrupt dictators and the institutions that profited from their rule.
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"We pressure poor countries to repay their debts. But many such loans were taken out by autocrats who used it to repress dissent and to build personal wealth in the West. This stirring film shows the effects of forcing poor populations to foot the bill for their own oppression."
Thomas Pogge, Columbia University, author of World Poverty and Human Rights
"We loaned hundreds of billions of dollars to illegitimate regimes, then facilitated the flow of trillions of dollars of corrupt and tax-evading money out of these same countries, and now have the audacity to tell the next generation of poor people that they have to pay off their debts in order to be creditworthy in the future. The arrogance of this position is breathtaking. The Debt of Dictators gets squarely into the moral dimensions of this issue."
Raymond Baker, Capitalism's Achilles Heel
"The Debt of Dictators is an important addition to the debt campaigner’s toolkit. The film takes a sometimes difficult concept -- odious debt -- and clearly shows how this debt was accrued. Most importantly, it profiles the vibrant, creative social movements and grassroots groups campaigning for debt cancellation. At the American Friends Service Committee, we use the film regularly to complement our grassroots education activities."
Imani Countess, Director, AFSC National Life over Debt Campaign