Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Some things never change?

I am on my way tonight to Santiago, Chile for the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The IWC is meeting in South America for the second time in its history. The previous occasion was in 1984, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was there too, and since that time, I've had on a wall in my office this photo of a poster displayed in front of the hotel where the Buenos Aires meeting took place.

"Japón manda - Pinochet obedece": Japan gives orders - Pinochet executes them. This poster represents a good metaphore for what our friend José Truda Palazzo, the Alternate Commissioner of Brazil to the IWC says in his "Who's Whales?" paper: "...whaling concerns took great advantage of the fact that Latin American countries were governed by dictators or military juntas whose interests were more easily satisfied than would have been the case if the company had to negotiate concessions under a democratic and transparent system. Under this political environment, the killing of whales in disregard of the opinions of the IWC’s Scientific Committee was commonplace [...] The political influence of the Japanese-owned companies, however, suffered a death blow when the winds of democracy swept over South America and the old regimes were toppled through popular elections".

Nearly 25 years later, this poster reminds us that we are now in a very different world: Pinochet is no longer here of course and Chile's democracy is remarkably strong [Argentina's too, and this was not the case in 1984 when President Alfonsin had just been elected]; Chile is no longer a whaling country but a leader in whale conservation; the whole of Latin America has taken a lead in whale conservation policy worldwide [sometimes even to the annoyance of their anglo-saxon partners]; the moratorium on commercial whaling entered into force in 1986 two years after the Buenos Aires meeting and it is still in force despite Japan's, Norway's and Iceland's ways to circumvent it; whale watching has boomed all over the world as a sustainable substitute to whaling, especially in Latin America.

Only one thing hasn't changed, it seems: the Fisheries administrations of Japan, Norway and Iceland have maintained their rearguard battle to continue commercial whaling.

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