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Monday, June 19, 2006 



The Japanese water carrier and the Caribbean ants

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Sunday, June 18, 2006

"You must understand," the man said, "a drop of water is a mockery to a thirsty horse. To an ant it is enough to swim in." He was attempting to explain to me the importance of Japan's Overseas Development Aid programme to the small island states of the Eastern Caribbean, which are, as I write, expected to be an integral component of Japan's attempt to take control of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Here in Frigate Bay, in St Kitts, at the very grand marble and concrete extravaganza called the Marriott Resort and Casino it is possible to imagine oneself almost anywhere but in a poor, tropical Caribbean island. Waterfalls cascade, rocks emit Bob Marley's music and there is a Jacuzzi in my suite.

Power is the motif here and this place is power-intensive.Japan is well represented here. No one knows how many, but there are lots of them. Greenpeace is not so well represented. Their presence has been deemed a threat to the national security of St Kitts.

The Greenpeace ship was denied free passage into the waters of St Kitts, largely, one assumes, because of the fact that it was used to harass and embarrass Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean during the last whaling season.

Japan and Greenpeace represent two poles of the increasingly acrimonious argument about commercial whaling.

The Japanese want to legalise commercial whaling 20 years after it was banned by the IWC. The Japanese population is the main market for whale meat, and they objected to the 'indefinite moratorium' on whale killing and decided to continue harvesting whales through what the Japanese government called "scientific whaling" for research into the effect of whales on the life of the ocean.

The Japanese have since come up with the novel idea that whales are competing with humans for fish and that competition should be eliminated or reduced. There is unfortunately, a lamentable lack of evidence to support the Japanese viewpoint and most reputable scientists are of the view that scientific whaling is not science.

A group of eminent lawyers consulted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare concluded that "scientific whaling" is a subterfuge for commercial whaling and is an illegal enterprise under international law, specifically against the Law of the Sea, the Biodiversity Convention and the Convention Against Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.

Against these opinions, the Japanese are joined by a motley collection of mainly small island developing countries, but also including developing countries in Africa, and surprisingly, Outer Mongolia - which is completely landlocked and with no readily apparent interest in whaling.

Six of these countries are from the Caribbean: Antigua/Barbuda, Grenada, Dominica, St Kitts/Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. The world's largest environmental NGO is the Worldwide Fund for Nature (formerly the World Wildlife Fund). In May this year, the WWF sponsored public opinion surveys in five states of the Caribbean and five from the Pacific to find out what the people of these islands really think about whaling.

The results were surprising. Of the 10 populations surveyed, at opposite ends of the world, nine were opposed to their government's stance on whaling. Only in Grenada did the pro-whaling viewpoint prevail over the anti-whaling element, and even there there was no absolute majority.

In Grenada sentiment was almost equally balanced - 40-39 per cent.
Strangest of all, Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean bellwether for whaling, was overwhelmingly opposed to whaling, with nearly eight in 10 people against (79 per cent). There were absolute majorities against whaling in St Kitts and St Lucia while in the others, anti-whaling sentiment prevailed.

In the Pacific islands, the results were even more dramatic: In reply to the question: "Do you think your country should vote for or against a return to commercial whaling?" the populations were almost uniformly anti-whaling, with 76 per cent in Palau, 72 per cent in the Solomon Islands, 64 per cent in the Marshall Islands, 64 per cent in Tuvalu, while in Kiribati the vote against was 47 per cent against to 40 per cent pro.

It is difficult to make sense of the Eastern Caribbean position. Their representatives repeat well-rehearsed lines about the sustainable development of marine resources, but are unable or unwilling to provide any evidence of any programme of work in this direction.

What there is plenty of is the opposition of Caribbean conservationists and tourism and allied interests to the legalisation of whaling. They appear to reflect the opinions of the population better than the politicians.

In a statement called "The declaration of St Kitts", Caribbean stakeholders urged Caribbean politicians to "Vote for the Caribbean", to vote for the interest of their own people instead of the interest of Japan.

In support of their position, the stakeholders brought witnesses from the whale watching industry to make the point that whales were more profitable to the Caribbean alive than dead. As some people say, Whales should be seen, not hurt.

A stakeholder from the Dominican Republic related how in one locality, Samana, whale watching, in an annual 65-day season, brings in more than US$15 million in direct and indirect revenue.

And half of the whale watching operators are former fishermen. The DR has created a whale sanctuary in 20,000 sq km of its exclusive economic zone - effectively forbidding whaling. The French in Martinique and Guadeloupe are expected to announce, as I write, sanctuaries around Martinique and Guadeloupe, which will certainly make life difficult for the pro-legalisation forces.

The IWC is one stepping stone for Japan on its way to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. They are quite open about it.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry's Fourth Consultation with their Caribbean clients in Barbados in 1996 concluded that Japan clearly recognised the importance of bagging the then 13-member Caricom bloc "and are determined to court that vote, especially in relation to the long-term goal of securing permanent membership of the UN Security Council".

We in Jamaica can recall the building of a fishery facility in Prime Minister P J Patterson's constituency a few years ago. As the Japanese proverb says: "Charity is a good investment."What is seriously missing from all these development projects, often placed in Prime Ministerial Constituencies in the Caribbean, is any record of how they have helped local fishermen or the local economy.

Several years ago, Japanese long line fishermen did a very effective job of denuding the Caribbean of its pelagic fish. When I was last in Grenada the long line fishing vessel donated by the Japanese had not been to sea for years.

There were no fish to catch. Other Japanese facilities are being used, according to my informants, as community cold stores for beer and other perishable goods. This, I reiterate, is second-hand information, and if it is not correct I would like to know.

In a way it is appropriate that the IWC meeting is taking place in this Marriott palace. It is a vast pleasure dome, lavishly caparisoned in marble and stone. The painful realities of whaling seem as far away as St Kitts itself seems from the room in which I write.

The hotel, like those Spanish monstrosities on the Jamaican north coast, are emphatic statements of the power of capitalism, imposing its personality on the landscape regardless of the beauty it disfigures.

The Haitians and the Palestinians are intimately aware of this power, in which big power politics and interests inevitably trump the will of the people and common sense. In Palestine, the European Union is going to great lengths to frustrate the will of the Palestinians; in Haiti the United Nations Security Council is going to great lengths to frustrate the will of the Haitians.

So too, Palau, Antigua, Kiribati and St Kitts may not want to kill whales. But if Japan tells their governments how to vote, and they obey, what exactly is the value of that commodity called the will of the people?

Copyright 2006 John Maxwell

jankunnu [at] yahoo.com

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