Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Caribbean and whaling... Shameful!

Shameful - The Caribbean and whaling

caribbeannewsnow editorial

It was a shameful sight -- three Caribbean countries walking in obedience behind Japan, discarding even the appearance of independence.

Joji Morishitain, the Japanese representative to a meeting last week in Jersey of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), announced he was walking out of the meeting, and the delegates of the three Caribbean countries – St Kitts-Nevis, Grenada and St Lucia – dutifully joined him.

What was the walk out about? Latin American nations, led by Brazil and Argentina, had proposed the creation of a sanctuary for whales in the South Atlantic. Currently there are two such whale havens, one in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica and the other in the Indian Ocean. When it was obvious that a majority of countries supported the Latin American proposal, the Japanese staged the walk out so as undermine a consensus decision.

There was no legitimate reason for the Caribbean countries to join Japan. Not one of them is a whale-hunting nation. Nor do any of them derive any economic or dietary benefit from whale-killing. Further, by joining Japan, the Caribbean countries ruptured their relations with their Latin American neighbours, with whom they are associated in the Latin American and Caribbean Group in the United Nations system.

In the creation of the South Atlantic sanctuary, the Latin American countries would have viewed Caribbean countries as their natural allies, particularly as they place considerable importance in its establishment. Undoubtedly, there will be a price to pay for this sabotage by Caribbean countries of Latin American interests, however stonily silent the Latin Americans have been so far.

Brazil and Argentina – two of the biggest nations in Latin America and the Caribbean – may have forgiven the Caribbean countries for not supporting them if there was a direct Caribbean interest in rejecting the whale sanctuary proposal. But, there is no direct Caribbean interest in saying “no” to the sanctuary. Many Caribbean countries, including the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Dominica, Guadeloupe and Martinique operate healthy whale-watching businesses that have helped to diversify their tourism product, earn millions of dollars in foreign exchange and provide employment. A whale sanctuary is in their interest.

The blind walk-out by the three Caribbean countries, holding on to a Japanese kimono, reconfirmed an expose by the British Sunday Times newspaper last year that revealed Japan paying the accommodation and “expenses” of several delegates of Caribbean countries to the 2010 IWC meeting in Morocco.

Last week, a feisty Antiguan government minister employed evangelical zeal in opposing a resolution from European Union countries to stop some delegations (those that vote with Japan) from paying cash for their countries’ subscription to the IWC. The resolution was adopted despite the machinations of the Antigua minister, who played a supporting role to the representative of St Kitts-Nevis.

From now on, the IWC will only accept bank transfers directly from government accounts. This may well have the effect of stopping a few of these countries from attending the IWC meetings, unless Japan pays the money to the governments directly, proving what has been alleged all along.

Had the Antigua minister been present at the IWC meeting on the day the Japanese-led walk out was staged, undoubtedly there would have been a fourth Caribbean country in the procession.

The Caribbean delegates have returned to the Caribbean and given no account of why they opposed – albeit unsuccessfully – a resolution for transparency and accountability in paying the subscriptions of governments, and why they voted against their Latin American neighbours that wanted a South Atlantic whale sanctuary.

In the past, the Caribbean representatives to the IWC meetings have slavishly followed the Japanese line that whales devour fish stocks once they get to Caribbean waters, depriving Caribbean people of food. This claim has long been debunked as a falsehood, even though, as recently as last month, ministers from Antigua and St Lucia were repeating it parrot-fashion after a Japanese-organised meeting in St Lucia to prepare the participating Caribbean countries for last week’s IWC meeting in Jersey.

It is noteworthy that the government of Dominica, which was once part of the Japanese-kimono group, has held fast to a decision of its prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, to divorce his country from voting with Japan. Dominica sent no delegation to the IWC, maintaining its position that as the “nature isle of the Caribbean” it has a responsibility to its own reputation to sustain the marine life of its environment. The Skerrit government has won the respect and support of environmental and conservation organizations world-wide, whereas the other IWC-Caribbean countries are earning the odium of environmentalist organizations and the distrust of major governments, including those in Latin America.

The problem is that the world views the Caribbean as one area, and the actions of these four Caribbean countries, with a yen for Japan’s “kill-whale” position, are sullying the standing of other Caribbean countries that conduct their international business in their own interests.

We urge the governments of the majority of Caribbean nations to call the governments of these four countries to book on this issue in the interest of the region’s standing.

July 20, 2011

caribbeannewsnow editorial