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Chile Embroiled in Whaling Conservation Controversy

Monday, May 10th 2010 - 18:38 UTC
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Cristian Maquieira is IWC chairman but is also an active Chilean ambassador Cristian Maquieira is IWC chairman but is also an active Chilean ambassador

Chilean Foreign Minister, Alfredo Moreno, said that Chile will maintain a position “in favour of conservation and against whaling,” and that Chilean Ambassador Cristián Maquieira, though he now chairs the International Whaling Commission, “is not the person who represents Chile” in this forum.

Conservation groups in Chile have awaited this announcement after the International Whaling Commission (IWC) released a new proposal to grant whaling quotas to countries in the organization. The IWC revealed their new proposal on April 23. It will be further discussed and voted on during the next IWC meeting from June 21-25 in Morocco.

Sen. Juan Pablo Letelier reiterated Alfredo Moreno’s statement. “The policy of the state of Chile is conservation” and added that the government’s policy “is that we do not want any hunting of whales in our own waters and also want to promote this position the international community.”

“It is a shame that the world sees Chile as justifying whaling,” he said and called for Ambassador Cristián Maquieira to be dismissed from the IWC presidency. The new proposal would replace the 25-year moratorium on whaling with quotas for allowed hunting.

Three countries, Norway, Iceland and Japan, have continued to hunt through a scientific research loophole in the current moratorium. The proposal, according to the IWC vice-chair, Anthony Liverpool, would “strengthen actions related to our shared goal of maintaining healthy whale populations and recovering depleted stocks. For the first time since the adoption of the commercial whaling moratorium, we will have strict, enforceable limits on all whaling operations.”

The proposal is deplored by whale conservation groups because it lacks a scientific base for the quotas and allows the hunting of endangered species.

The Chilean Foreign Minister explained that the “Chilean position has not changed at all. We are for conservation and against whaling. And simply because it happens that a Chilean is (IWC) president doesn’t mean this person represents Chile.”

“There are different positions on this committee,” he said. “There are people who think it’s okay to hunt certain types of whales that have a larger population, and what he (Maquieira) has done is to try to find a consensus position that would permit agreement in the committee. And he has put forward this position to see if there is agreement or not. “Chile has its own decision to maintain the position it has held so far.”

Several environmental and conservation groups applaud Moreno’s statement, but some organizations want more, including the Cetacean Conservation Center (CCC), a Chilean NGO focused on the conservation of whale species and their ecosystems around Chile and in the Southern Hemisphere.

When asked by the Santiago Times, the executive director of the organization, Elsa Cabrera, responded that there was still a bit more to be explained. “We appreciate the minister's remarks to the effect that Ambassador Maquieira does not represent the country and that the country maintains its position of whale conservation. But Chileans need to know what role Maquieira has in the Chilean delegation to the IWC, because technically he continues to be the country’s representative. So we ask Minister Moreno to resolve this situation to avoid further confusion.”

The Chilean government’s silence on the whale issue up until now aggravated many people. Three large Chilean conservation groups—Ecoceanos, CCC and Ecoanimal, complained that the government, which had previously had said it was committed to whale conservation and would do all it could to help the effort, was being ominously secretive.

Despite its seemingly strong stance for the species’ preservation, this is not the first time Chile has been seen as being silent on whale conservation issues. In January, protests were held outside of the Japanese embassy in Santiago against the “scientific” whaling Japanese ships in the Antarctic Ocean. The protests were also aimed at the Chilean government’s lack of action on the issue.

Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Iceland, United States, Mexico and Brazil have publicly opposed the new proposal for conservation reasons. Japan and Iceland have come out against it because they judge the quotas they would be given are too small. Iceland has said that if the quotas pass, it will drop out of the IWC, allowing it to hunt as many whales as it wants. Three-quarters of the 88 member governments IWC would have to vote yes at the end of June to pass the proposal. If adopted, the proposal would dictate whaling quotas and rights of the member countries for the next 10 years.

Sen. Letelier said that the government is ”extremely aware that Ambassador Maquieira […] is damaging the image of Chile, damaging the image of what Chilean politics was in this area, and that is why we want explanations. And if the government of President Sebastián Piñera has an opinion contrary to the ambassador’s, we need to take the necessary actions so that the proposal not only is rejected, but Mr. Maquieira is replaced, if possible in the shortest possible time.”

By Laura French – Santiago Times

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