The Debt of the Dictators is a product of INSIGHT, a Norwegian production company. This documentary is aimed at examining the current debt burden of developing countries. Journalist Erling Borgen directs the INSIGHT team, and the 46 minute DVD examines the situation in Argentina, South Africa, and the Philippines, with a brief reference to the DR Congo.
The documentary focuses on the issue of what it calls illegitimate debt. These are debts undertaken by dictatorial regimes, but there is some difficulty in defining what makes debt “illegitimate.” A report from the Norwegian Church Aid group, which sponsored the video, states that the term illegitimate debt “has no existing definition in law, and the term seems never to have been used in legislation or court judgements.”
So, in some sense, the video is a defense and an exploration of what this “illegitimate debt” is. The movie begins with a statement from Alvin Anthony, leader of Jubilee South Africa, a debt relief movement. Anthony says that illegitimate debt is the barrier to the eradication of poverty, and that with debt forgiveness, “We’ve got a better chance for world peace.” But, again, we are left looking for a real definition.
The first country explored is Argentina, and we see here the familiar pattern that will emerge throughout the rest of the video. Argentina’s predicament has the two factors contributing to “illegitimate debt”: corrupt political rule and massive foreign debt. The figures that are most often used to show the size of the debt load in these countries is a comparison of government spending on social programs compared to debt interest. In Argentina, the government spends three times as much on servicing debt interest as on health, education, and welfare programs.
After a brief background on Argentina’s situation, referencing the military dicatorship, the attention turns to the transnational banks that loaned money to the corrupt government. The banks are variously called “accomplices” in “genocide,” and “hypocrites.” One prominent Argentinian economist says that the banks “have no ethics. They have no morals.”
Here is the common refrain throughout the remainder of the video. The corruption of the dictators’ regimes are given passing lip-service, while the lion’s share of blame is placed on transnational banks and multinational corporations that did business with these regimes. Since the governments were not democratically elected and were harshly oppressive, the reasoning goes, the nation now should not be responsible for the debts incurred.