Update From Santiago: 6/23

It didn’t take long on Saturday for the entire IFAW team to hit the ground running after arriving in Santiago. I spent last week speaking to colleagues in other organizations and meeting some of the scientists whose work I’ve been quite interested in for some time. Needless to say I’ve been busy and find myself typing this at 6:30am after a whirlwind weekend. To think plenary session hasn’t even begun yet!

Even though activities are just getting started, I already have an
improved sense of appreciation for the international network IFAW
maintains, from what I did just yesterday. It seems as though each team
member gathers intel on a particular region of the world and then meets
back here in our meeting room (actually just a converted bedroom) to
strategize about what to do next. It’s not uncommon for the situation
to change drastically in minutes.

Yesterday I attended the US delegation meeting with US NGOs. It was
a chance for us to be briefed on the US position at the IWC. Many
nations, both in favor and opposed to whaling, have submitted their
"vision" for the future of the IWC. I was looking forward for a chance
to learn about the US vision. The US has some impressive whale
protection laws in place and I was hoping my country's platform at the
commission would bring those same conservation principals to this
international forum. Sadly, they did not.

The US government’s whale policy reminds me of a good Shakespearian
tragedy. Cheesy analogy, I know, but it seem appropriate. I’m always
rooting for them to make the right choice when given an obvious
opportunity. US whale policy often remains vague and ambiguous enough
that my hopes for improved protection for whales slowly build in
anticipation of something big, yet in the end, nothing.  That’s exactly
what happened yesterday. Nothing.

The US could have risen as a leader in an international forum where
strong leadership is sorely needed. They have not. When asked about the
US's role in a negotiation that could lead to commercial whaling, the
alternate commissioner answered simply, "We’ve agreed to go along with
the process."  What does that even mean???

It means the US has no vision, no goals or agenda for the meeting.
Essentially, the US is not empowered to do anything at an international
meeting for whales. It was so disappointing. I know the folks on the US
delegation don’t agree with the position, their scientists are models
of responsible ocean managers in the United States. The problem is that
they are powerless.

I wanted to ask the ultimate dumb question. Just what is the US
vision for the Future of the IWC? It was obvious none existed. All
this, while the Chair of the Commission and the US Commissioner are the
same person! The very person who is creating an atmosphere of
negotiation isn’t even taking a position for which to negotiate on.

Perhaps the biggest let down of the 35 minute meeting was when
someone asked our delegation how the US position had changed since the
congressional resolution last week. You’d think that after being
directed by the House of Representatives the US delegation might get
their act together and cowboy up as a stronger voice at the IWC. Well,
hate to disappoint you, but it seems it’s going to take a lot more than
the Congress of the United States to tell these folks what to do. The
alternate commissioner literally said  “It was just the House, it was
non-binding, and really does not change our position at the IWC.”  Then
he said, “The Administration wants to see progress at the Commission by
the next IWC meeting.”  What does that even mean? This administration
won’t even be in place when the next meeting occurs!

The US meeting was a huge disappointment. President Bush has taken
some good actions on behalf of our oceans. He created the Marine Debris
and Pollution Act and established the Hawaiian Islands National
Monument to protect the reefs and other amazing marine life that live
in these remote islands.  However when it comes to protecting whales;
whether from ship collisions with ships or grenade tipped harpoons, it
seems as though our government simply doesn’t care. 

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