by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When were you appointed as Executive Director of Jubilee USA Network, and what have been some of the most rewarding experiences that you have had to date?
Eric: I took over the reigns of Jubilee USA in April 2010. Working at Jubilee USA is a fulfillment of my Catholic vocation. The most rewarding experience of my career is working with, supporting and advising Catholic and other Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. Working with the Bishops and Catholic religious orders of the United States, Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Africa, and Latin America as well as major interfaith leaders in all of these regions can only be described as a gift.
Together this interfaith work has had unprecedented results. We’ve moved forward major policies to address the structural causes of poverty - debt, tax, and trade issues. In Africa, our efforts brought aid and debt relief monies to confront the Ebola epidemic that hit Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. We created a new process at the International Monetary Fund that strengthened healthcare and built new hospitals across the region.
In the Caribbean, we rallied religious leaders to deal with financial crisis and high poverty rates head on. In Puerto Rico, our work with religious leaders yielded new processes to address the 60 percent child poverty rate.
Globally, our work at Jubilee USA with the Holy See and interfaith religious partners won policies to address the causes of poverty worldwide. Together, we won new global policies to stop the exploitive behavior of vulnerable communities and decreased global corruption. It's been our efforts that called attention to the financial crisis and the reality that developing countries can't deal with poverty without dealing with high debt loads, budget transparency and tax evasion.
At the same time, the great reward of supporting and working with Catholic and other religious leaders in every corner of our world has also met challenges. While our successes together are myriad, our work must continue to address the root causes of poverty.
The same causes of poverty also spur inequality, human rights abuse, terrorism, war, and environmental degradation. I admire the teaching of our Holy Father who frames all of these issues in the economic issues that I am privileged to work on.
Gordon: You have been a tireless advocate for the reduction of poverty globally. Poverty may have a different connotation in different parts of the world. Please share your definition of poverty with our readers.
Eric: Global standards assume that anyone living on less than $1.90 a day lives in extreme poverty. But in the simplest of terms, poverty is not having enough healthy food to eat or receive basic education or health-care or have access to decent shelter. In every country of the world and on every continent, there are severe forms of need and extreme poverty.
As a Catholic and as someone who works on the causes of poverty, we can not separate these issues from the causes of inequality. The wealthiest 80 people in the world have more wealth the half of the world's population. 80 people on earth own more than the bottom 3.6 billion people in the world. The causes of poverty, that I work on, are debt, tax, trade, and transparency policies. It's why our work at Jubilee USA Network is so incredibly important.
Gordon: What are our moral obligations as Catholics to address poverty?
Eric: Our faith requires us as a moral obligation to not only be charitable but to address the primary causes of poverty. As Catholics, scripture and Catholic doctrine and the Holy Father call us to do everything in our power to end poverty.
The Catholic Church is at the forefront of articulating that we can not end poverty without addressing the structural causes of poverty.
Gordon: In your opinion and based on your testimony to the US Congress, how has the United States addressed the support of the people in need in Puerto Rico?
Eric: I think that the US Government has addressed the situation of Puerto Rico in a range of ways. I testified several times before Congress met with Puerto Rico’s former and current Governor and testified to the Congressionally installed oversight board of Puerto Rico. My message, rooted in Catholic teaching, is that it is imperative for decision makers to protect the vulnerable, limit austerity policies, protect the environment and reduce the nearly 60 percent child poverty rate on the island.
Our message is met with many responses. Both positive and negative.
Puerto Rico remains a colony of the United States and as such, decisions the US Government makes impact Puerto Rico. The Catholic Church, the Archbishop of San Juan and Caritas has been heroic in their advocacy for Puerto Rico’s people. Working with the Catholic and other interfaith religious groups on the island has brought a strong response from the Obama and Trump White Houses as well as Republican and Democratic leadership. The partnership of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has also been instrumental.
Because of our role with Catholic partners, we won a process to restructure the debt and reduce austerity. We’ve won rules for preferential treatment of poor communities. At this point, we’ve won more than 40 billion dollars in hurricane aid. We’ve ensured that policies are in place so Puerto Rico can rebuild to withstand the next storm.
With that noted, we still face enormous challenges. Creditor groups are successfully preventing positive debt restructuring and the island needs another 80 billion in aid. Our work as Catholics to lift and defend the people of Puerto Rico is so essential now and must continue.
Gordon: As a member of expert working groups to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, what is your experience can nations do to more effectively deal with life-threatening poverty wherever it occurs?
Eric: Life-threatening poverty is caused by structural policies. Debt, tax, and trade policies are why resources are poorly distributed and why poverty exists. It's why Catholic teaching is so important in terms of going beyond the important works of charity and working towards acts of justice. Our Savior reminds us of this when he declares the year of the Lord’s favor or the year of Jubilee, in his first public act in Luke’s gospel. He reiterates the call of the prophets: in order to live in harmony with one another, we must act for justice.
Countries must go beyond giving aid, we need to implement policies that will end poverty. The developing world loses a trillion dollars a year because of tax evasion and corruption. Countries around the world lose hundreds of billions annually because of a lack of public budget transparency and irresponsible borrowing. For every 1 dollar in aid developing countries receive, they lose 5 dollars in debt payments. At the United Nation, the IMF and in every country in the world, we can change these policies. Even minor shifts will release hundreds of millions of people from the bondage of poverty.
Gordon: You address the diverse challenges of religion, politics and economics often in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, Bloomberg, McClatchy News Service, National Public Radio, Agence-France Presse, Market Place, CNN Money, the Financial Times and The Hill. What issues have resulted in the most feedback?
Eric: Sharing the Gospel with the media is critical for our efforts. Because we raise these issues in the mainstream media, there is a broader understanding of the actual structures that create global poverty.
Many of us don't realize how issues like debt, tax, and trade are the source of inequality and poverty. These issues impact our lives almost as much as the very oxygen we breathe. The media, just like most of us, is yearning to understand and communicate these issues. It's how why we spend so much time engaging with them.
Gordon: Jesus asked us to live our neighbor as ourselves Considering we are members of a global community and a global religion, who is our neighbor?
Eric: In our global community, we are all neighbors. In this global economy, what happens to one of us impacts all of us. We are called to love our neighbors, no matter who they are or where they call home.
Gordon: Thank you for this exceptional interview.