Caribbean credibility at stake in IWC vote
By Sir Ronald Sanders:
When people around the world think of whale-hunting nations, the Caribbean is the last place that crosses their minds. Yet, the governments of Suriname and the six independent members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) are in a pivotal position to end or continue a moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place for 24 years.
There is no benefit for these Caribbean countries if commercial whaling is resumed since none of them are commercial whalers. But they are members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) which is likely to face a vote on whether or not to abandon the ban on commercial whaling when its 88 members meet in Morocco from June 21.
Several authoritative reports suggest that Japan’s pays the membership fees of Suriname and OECS governments to the IWC and also pays the costs of their delegates’ attendance at IWC meetings directing how they vote. In return, these countries get Fisheries Complexes from Japan.
A United Nations Environmental Programme publication, “Caribbean Currents” put the issue in stark terms, saying: “It currently appears that not only are whales in danger, but so are the autonomy and self-determination of Caribbean nations”.
If, at the June meeting of the IWC, the seven Caribbean countries side with Japan, Norway and Iceland – the only three remaining nations that favour commercial whaling – they could help to open the armoury on whales and resume a slaughter that the world has resisted for almost three decades. In the process, they could damage their tourism image in the world as an eco-friendly area.
Since 1992, all the Caribbean members of the IWC have consistently voted in favour of repealing the moratorium until 2008 when Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt declared that his government would no longer be doing so. In 2009, he repeated that his government “will not renege on that commitment of staying clear of voting for whaling”. However, Suriname and the other OECS members of the IWC - St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis – have continued to vote with Japan, the most aggressive of the three remaining countries that favour commercial whaling.
All eyes are on the Dominica government to see whether it sticks to its commitment despite the facts that Japanese officials have been active in OECS countries in the past few weeks.
This renewed Japanese activity has caused Caribbean business people and Caribbean environmentalists to argue publicly that it is not in the interest of the OECS countries to continue to support Japan’s whaling position.
Caribwhale, an organization of Caribbean tourism business people and their employees, has recently urged the governments of Suriname and the OECS not to vote for a resumption of commercial whaling since the region has a thriving whale watching industry as part of its tourism product. “Dead whales”, they said, “are no good to the Caribbean; live ones bring revenues and employment from the whale watching industry”.
This call was followed by an appeal by the Eastern Caribbean Coalition for Environmental Awareness (ECCEA), a grouping of Caribbean environmentalists, who wrote to the OECS representatives to the IWC and their heads of government, saying: “Commercial and ‘scientific’ whaling do not serve a Caribbean purpose”.
Suriname and the members of the OECS owe Japan nothing particularly as the balance of trade between them is entirely in Japan’s favour year after year. Japan’s aid for Fisheries Complexes is far less than the millions of dollars spent every year by the Caribbean countries on imports of Japanese motor vehicles, computers, printers, cameras, outboard motors, and agricultural equipment.
What’s more Japan has shown little concern for the Caribbean, repeatedly ignoring protests from Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government over the shipment of Japanese nuclear waste through the Caribbean Sea. One accident, however, small would destroy the fragile ecology of the Caribbean Sea and destroy Caribbean economies.
As far as the whale watching industry in the OECS countries is concerned, Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada are already earning millions of dollars from it. The potential exists for an equally thriving business in St Kitts-Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda. But if Suriname and members of the OECS support any form of commercial whaling at the upcoming IWC meeting, they will harpoon this possibility.
Proponents of the proposition at the IWC to legitimise whale catches by Japan and others, argue that it will reduce the number of whales that are killed. However, leading world environmentalists refute this claim, saying the proposition as worded will open the floodgates to unrestrained commercial whaling.
Among these respected environmentalists is Dr Justin Cooke, who represents the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on the IWC Scientific Committee. In testimony to the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, he described the proposed deal as a “scam”. He testified that “the true nature of the scam only dawned on me after reading the text several times. And even then only with the benefit of many years of experience with IWC procedures, that enables me to relate such a text to how it would actually be implemented in practice. Those without the benefit of such experience will find it even harder to discern what the text really implies and to spot the scam”.
Several IWC Latin American members, known as the Buenos Aires Group and comprising Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic and Uruguay, also strongly oppose the proposition before the IWC. Joined by non-IWC members Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras and Venezuela, the Group stated that they will propose at the IWC meeting that "over a period of 10 years... there must be a significant and increasing reduction of quotas (catch limits)... until lethal research is completely eliminated.”
Just as the Latin American nations have done, there is every reason why, in making their decision on how to vote at the IWC, the governments of Suriname and the OECS should listen to a range of voices beyond the Japanese. Such voices should include environmental experts and their own business people and workers who make a living and earn sustainable revenues for their countries from whale watching.
Caribbean economies are small and in need of help, but such help should be genuine and concerned with sustainable development. Large industrialized nations, such as Japan, should not be taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of small countries to advance their own agenda. And, when they do, Caribbean countries should reject it in their own interests, or they will never assert their independence and command respect as sovereign nations.
For Suriname and the OECS governments, the IWC vote will be about more than the fate of whales; it will also be about their international reputation.
June 4, 2010