Lobbying by U2 singer Bono helped influence the U.S. government's recent decision to forgive the debt owed it by some of the world's poorest nations, according to the charity coalition Jubilee 2000.
Congress on Friday approved a debt-relief proposal from President Clinton, with pieces of a larger, international debt-relief scheme laid out by world leaders during a June summit in Cologne, Germany.
"There's no doubt that Bono played a role here and helped open some doors," Jubilee 2000 spokesperson David Bryden said.
Bono (born Paul Hewson) has been working since February with Jubilee 2000 on its goal of persuading the world's richest nations to forgive the massive debts owed by the world's poorest.
In the fall, the 39-year-old singer took his fight to Washington D.C.,
meeting with politicians and holding press conferences to try to persuade
leaders to sign on to the cause.
"My job is to get people to force themselves to take a fresh look at this, to do something about it," Bono said earlier this month. "I like to think that music keeps the heart from hardening."
The singer has not commented on Congress' recent decision, Bryden said.
Clinton voiced his support for the cause in a letter released on Tuesday
to religious leaders around the country, many of whom also have been
outspoken about debt relief. "Simply put, unsustainable debt is helping
to keep too many poor countries and poor people in poverty," he wrote.
But the 29 mostly African countries affected by Clinton's debt-forgiveness plan owe only about 3 percent of their total debt directly to the U.S., according to Jubilee 2000. Also, Congress has not approved a large portion of the debt-relief plan formed in Cologne, which would forgive about a third of the $370 billion owed by Third World nations, according to White House figures.
Nonetheless, Jubilee 2000 sees Congress' recent actions as a triumph, according to organization leader Dr. Jo Marie Griesgraber.
"Two weeks ago, it looked as though the U.S. was going to fail to participate in ... debt relief," Griesgraber said in a statement. "But pressure from grass-roots supporters, key member groups ... plus the persuasive charm of a rock star ... managed to turn things around."
As it continues to pursue full debt relief, Jubilee 2000 is planning a
rally April 9 in Washington, D.C. The organization hopes Bono and other entertainers who have supported the cause will perform there, Bryden said.
Former Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell, former Boomtown Rats singer (and Live Aid organizer) Bob Geldof and Radiohead's Thom Yorke are among the musicians who have supported the organization.
The anti-poverty NetAid concerts in October in the United States, England and Switzerland helped bring some attention to Jubilee 2000's cause. Debt relief was one of the focuses of the show and its accompanying website (www.netaid.org).
Bono wore a baseball cap bearing the Jubilee 2000 logo during his performance
at the U.S. NetAid show in East Rutherford, N.J. That concert suffered
from low attendance, and the events raised only $1 million from the public.
The U2 singer's campaign is not his first foray into political activism. U2's 1983 album War, with songs about the conflict in Northern Ireland, established the band's politically conscious reputation. U2's 1984 single "Pride (In the Name of Love)" (RealAudio excerpt) was a tribute to slain civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.