Walking through the streets of downtown La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, a number of very poor women called potosinas are highly visible. The women, many of whom are dressed in rags, come from the rural areas of the Altiplano to beg in the streets.
If you gave one of these impoverished women a boliviano (the equivalent of thirteen cents), you would likely double her daily income. According to official statistics, the poorest 10% of Bolivia’s population has an average monthly income of 27 bolivianos, which equals about $3.30, or a little more than 10 cents per day.
In Bolivia, the most economically poor country in South America, four of every ten inhabitants are extremely impoverished, meaning they live on less than $1 a day. In terms of numbers, almost 3.5 million people live in conditions of absolute poverty in this Andean nation.
Earlier this week, the directors of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) had an opportunity to help end the cycle of poverty that afflicts women like the potosinas. But instead of following the lead of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in canceling the debt of highly-indebted poor countries like Bolivia, the IDB postponed making a decision until the end of the year. This delay has dire consequences.
An Impoverished State Pays Millions in Public Debt
The Bolivian government has very little money to invest in health and education. In 2002, according to data from the World Health Organization, the government expenditure for health services reached only $38 per capita, while in the United States, the government spent $2,370 per capita on the health of its citizens, in other words, 62 times as much.
Meanwhile, last year the Bolivian government paid $367 million in interest and amortization on the principle of its external debt, a record figure in recent years. This means that the public coffers had to contribute approximately $39 per inhabitant towards servicing the external debt, about the same amount that was spent on public health.
At the G-8 Summit held in Scotland in July 2005, the eight most powerful countries in the world announced an initiative to cancel the debt of eighteen countries deeply indebted to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the African Development Bank. This initiative, which was grandly proclaimed as