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Caribbean Ministers accuse Western countries at IWC meeting of 'Intolerance, Disrespect and Economic Terrorism'

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Contact: Earl Bousquet

Frigate Bay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, June 19:-- Four Caribbean Government Ministers ministers attending the 58th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) have accused four major Western countries of a combination of intolerance and disrespect for small Caribbean island-states who support sustainable use of the world's marine resources.


At a joint press conference called here to explain the positions of their respective countries in support of a Declaration calling for a return to the original mandate of the IWC to manage whaling in a sustainable way, the Ministers from the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia said they rejected the notion that large countries ought to dictate to smaller states how they should vote at international fora.


Grenada's Education Minister Claris Charles – a former Fisheries Minister who was also her country's IWC Commissioner -- said Grenada rejected the demand by the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand, backed by Brazil, that countries “should force fishermen to stop whaling and engage instead in whale-watching.”


“We are a tolerant country. We have a vibrant whale-watching industry, but we will not be intolerant of those who wish to eat whale meat,” said Charles in response to a question.


“We are interested in conservation, but we also do not want to see people eat whales to extinction,” she added.


Ms Charles said her delegation was “concerned about the level of intolerance being exhibited by the larger countries that are members of the IWC.”


She said the countries pressuring the Caribbean were “tolerant of gays and lesbians, because they respect their right to choose their way of life; but they are intolerant of those people around the world who eat whale meat as a way of life.”


Declaring that “I do not eat whale meat,” the minister said, however, that “intolerance is intolerance, no matter who expresses it; and I would like to see more tolerance exhibited at the IWC by those who don't agree with our positions.”



A similar position was taken by Antigua and Barbuda's Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, Joanne Massiah.


Asked whether she saw the hostility of the Western states to the small island nations of the African, Pacific and Caribbean states as an expression of racism or size, she said: “I think it is more one of intolerance.”


She explained: “We are accused of selling our votes and prostituting our sovereignty. But as sovereign states we take great offence to this.


“No one questions the land-locked European states who have no oceans for whaling or whale watching, but which have joined the IWC, so it's simply a matter of rank hypocrisy.”


But, pressed further on the race question, Ms Massiah admitted that “race would be a factor of intolerance, just as would be the case with size and sexual orientation.”


For her part, the Grenada Minister, Ms Charles, said: “Race should not be ruled out, because when poor Black countries are treated in this way, it is hard not to see it as having to do with race.”


Asked to respond to the insistence by the Western countries that Caribbean countries should not support a resumption of commercial whaling, Ms Charles said: “I take great umbrage to being told what to eat.”


She said it was “hypocritical” of the United States, for example, “to insist that the Caribbean should stop supporting whaling when, despite their opposition to whaling, they demand a quota of North Atlantic Grey whales -- which are more threatened than other species – for their indigenous Native American tribes in Washington and Alaska.”



Disrespect is the word,” said Saint Kitts and Nevis Fisheries Minister of Housing, Agriculture, Fisheries and Consumer Affairs, Cedric Liburd.


He explained: “Our countries were under Britain for many years as colonies. But now, as independent states, we have to band together to survive. Now that we are uniting on issues of mutual interest, however, we are being accused of being bought by Japan.”


The Kittitian Fisheries Minister explained that he and his fellow Caribbean colleagues “came together in March, three months ago, to discuss a joint approach to the IWC meeting.”


“It was back then,” he further explained, “that we decided to jointly present the Declaration of Saint Kitts and Nevis to the conference and seek its endorsement by the other IWC member-states.”


Liburd said he found the Western states “disrespectful” of the Caribbean states, “because while they accuse us of taking aid from Japan to support whaling, we also get aid from the USA, the United Kingdom, Canada and others who accuse us.”


Saint Lucia's Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ignatius Jean, also concurred, saying the countries that attacked the Caribbean and other small states at the IWC were “being emotional.”


Asked whether the Western states offered any aid to the islands to help the whale watching industries, he said: “None at all. They offer no aid for whale watching.”


“Our countries are inundated with calls and letters, insisting that we change our positions. Nothing is said, however, about pollution or the risk of pollution through transshipment of toxic substances through Caribbean waters.”


“They continue to pollute our Caribbean waters, but they refuse to do so much that they can do to help the world's poor in developing countries. They are clearly showing their double standards,” said the minister.


“Science should prevail at the IWC, but they are letting their emotions run away with them,” he added.


Jean also quoted a former Saint Lucia IWC Commissioner, Dr. Edsel Edmunds – a scientist who was also the island's Ambassador to the UN, the OAS and the USA – who said that “science must prevail at the IWC and it should not be endangered.”


According to Jean: “We must respect the diversity of cultures. Sustainability and sustainable development is a new science that the world must respect.”



Asked to respond to a threat by the UK's Environment Minister, Ben Bradshaw, that “there can be a backlash by British consumers” if the islands don't cease their support for whaling and embrace whale watching, the ministers said they were not afraid, but they didn't take such threats lightly.


“Those are the usual threats,” said Jean.


“We have heard these threats before, but we will not cower. We know where we are going and we are not afraid of threats of reprisals.”



For her part, the Antigua and Barbuda minister saw the threat of a tourism boycott as “economic terrorism.”

“If you threaten to cut of our tourism lifeline and banish us to economic oblivion, just because we don't agree with you, it is terrorism – economic terrorism.”


The Saint Kitts and Nevis minister agreed with his Antigua and Barbuda counterpart, but said the islands would not be scared into changing their positions “just because of pressure.”


According to Liburd: “We know pressure. We are accustomed to pressure. But we are committed to our goals and we will not be distracted or derailed.”



Liburd also pointed out that “there is strength in unity.”


He explained: “We in the Caribbean have as many as fifteen votes at all international fora -- from the united Nations to the OAS to the Commonwealth -- and these votes are important at all.”


He said the Caribbean collectively proposed and backed the Declaration of Saint Kitts and Nevis urging a return to the original mandate of the IWC “because we know it's the right thing to do.”


The Declaration was adopted by the IWC commissioners on Sunday (June 18) by a majority of one vote.

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