Tell Obama and Congress to Stop the Squeeze on Greece

Isaiah J. Poole

Now that the Greek populace has spoken with a firm voice against the austerity policies being imposed on the country by Europe’s financial leaders, it’s time for President Obama and Congress to stand firm with the Greek people.

A petition calling on our political leadership to do just that was launched today by the progressive group Just Foreign Policy. “President Obama and Members of Congress should call on the European Central Bank to support the Greek banking system while negotiations continue between the Greek government and its official creditors to achieve a fair agreement,” the petition reads.

The petition follows on the heels of a letter sent Thursday to Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, one of the three members of the “troika” negotiating with Greece over how to pull the nation out of its financial crisis. The European Central Bank and the European Union are the other two.

The letter raises concerns about “hard line” statements by IMF officials and by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has taken a leading role in speaking for the European Union. “The Greek people have already suffered through a very painful adjustment over the past six years, losing more than a quarter of their national output, and with 26 percent of their labor force and more than half of young workers falling into unemployment,” said the letter, signed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Alan Grayson (F-Fla.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Raül Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

Instead of demands that the Greeks enact further cuts to their safety net and to public spending, after having already laid off nearly a fifth of its public sector workforce and cut retiree pensions by as much as 40 percent, “Greece needs a solution that makes economic recovery a priority – otherwise it will continue falling back into the same trap of austerity, recession and increasingly unsustainable debt,” the members of Congress write.

The first step, the petition says, is to end the squeeze on the Greek banking system. The European Central Bank today announced that it was maintaining for now the emergency liquidity assistance that enabled Greek banks to allow limited cash withdrawals to Greek depositors, but the Associated Press reported that “the decision leaves the Greek banks in a stranglehold, as they struggle to replenish cash machines in the coming days.”

So far, the Obama administration has chosen not to side with the 62 percent of Greek citizens who voted against accepting the troika’s terms for a bailout. White House spokesman Josh Earnest today would only say that “it will be the responsibility of the Europeans to resolve” Greek’s debt crisis in a way that puts the country on a path to “financial sustainability.” But the administration won’t play a leading role in brokering a compromise, according to a report in The Hill newspaper.

This is not the time for the administration to stand on the sidelines issuing tentative, both-sides-work-it-out statements. If the European financial troika succeeds in ignoring the democratic voice of the Greek people and impose what Robert Borosage calls the “classic shock doctrine” of punishment of the Greek people for the sins of the financial and corporate elite, that will set a terrible precedent that will reverberate through other troubled economies, from Spain to Puerto Rico and beyond. That is not a wave that President Obama would want history to record that he did nothing to stop.

“Progressive leaders in the Congress have called on the IMF to be flexible,” Borosage concludes. “President Obama should weigh in publicly as well as privately.”

If you agree, sign this petition.

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