From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1995:

CORAL GABLES, Florida––Aldemaro Romero is alive and well as an Adjunct
Associate Professor at the University of Miami. That annoys the Venezuelan government.
Officially, he’s wanted for treason. Unofficially, some authorities would rather have his tor-
tured corpse in a ditch, along with that of his colleague Ignacio Agudo, a fellow academic
and president of Fundacetacea (The Whale Fund), who has been dodging dragnets in
Venezuela for more than a year now.
Said Ramon Martinez, governor of Sucre state, to Wall Street Journal reporter Jose
de Cordoba, “If it were up to me, I’d have them shot.”
Their alleged crime was videotaping a fishing crew in February 1993 during the acts
of harpooning a dolphin, then hacking her apart alive for use as bait.
“The remains of 13 other dolphins were found on the beach,” states Romero. “The
crew said on tape that they kill dolphins for shark bait. They also provided information about
the number of dolphins they kill per month, and where they get the harpoons.”

It wasn’t a completely clean sting.
As the video sound track reveals, Romero
and Agudo told the crew how to position the
boat to give them good camera angles. But
Romero also begged that the dolphin be killed
quickly, and both Romero and Agudo asked
that no more dolphins be killed.
Claims Romero, “The fishermen
were never paid, nor did we promise them
anything. At the end of the trip we gave them
a bottle of rum worth 95¢ U.S. as a gift for
their hospitality to us. We also left behind the
gasoline that we had earlier purchased to fill
their spare can, worth $4.00 U.S.”
The Venezuelan government insists
that Romero and Agudo paid for the dolphin
killing as part of a plot by U.S.-based firms to
keep Venezuelan oil and tuna out of the U.S.
market. The H.J. Heinz Co., owner of
Starkist tuna, is supposed to have paid off
Romero and Agudo via a Heinz family dona-
tion of $10,000 to the San Francisco-based
Earth Island Institute, with which neither
Romero nor Agudo have any connection––
although Romero did receive some funding
directly from the Heinz Foundation in 1991.
The Philadelphia-based Sun Co. is said to
have made a similar payoff through the Pew
Charitable Trusts; Pew has granted Earth
Island $190,000 to monitor dolphin-killing by
the tuna industry.
Venezuelan tuna has been barred
from the U.S. since 1991 because of the fre-
quent practice of netting tuna “on dolphin,”
i.e. surrounding schools of dolphins with
purse seines because dolphins often swim
above schools of tuna. This killed as many as
300,000 dolphins a year in the eastern Pacific
before 1991, but Venezuela claims its fleet
killed just 700 dolphins in 1994.
Import restrictions on Venezuelan
oil are also in effect, over a trade dispute.
The alleged plot is improbable not
only because of the lack of evidence of a
money trail, but also because of Romero’s
international reputation. His resume includes
the presidency of the 1992 Hemispheric
Conference on Economics and the
Environment; forming and serving as execu-
tive director of the Venezuelan Foundation
for the Conservation of Biological Diversity
(BIOMA); establishing five nature preserves;
leading feasibility studies for two national
parks; and developing a 200,000-entry data
base on Venezuelan flora and fauna. A mem-
ber of the Species Specialist Group of the
International Union for the Conservation of
Nature, Romero is also author or co-author
of more than 300 scientific papers––many of
them in partnership with Agudo.
The Venezuelan embassy in
Washington D.C. did not respond to A N I-
MAL PEOPLE’s inquiry into the case.
Introduced as evidence in a court of
law, the Romero/Agudo video might be
thrown out as entrapment––much like the
video Chris DeRose of Last Chance for
Animals made in 1993 of Wisconsin dog
dealer Ervin Stebane killing a dog for an
undercover couple who said they wanted to
buy dog meat. While DeRose’s attempted
prosecution failed, Stebane had been sus-
pected of dubious deals involving dogs for 20
years or more, and was subsequently put per-
manently out of business by the USDA for
record-keeping violations.
The Romero/Agudo case involved
an even longer history of alleged abuses and
failures of government to halt them. Romero
cites 20 documented references to the slaugh-
ter of dolphins for bait published between
1979 and the videotaped harpooning, plus
four others published or broadcast subse-
quently. For instance, Romero says, “In
January 1994, Sucre state councillor Jesus
Anibal Gomez denounced the killing of dol-
phins in Santa Fe, within the Mochima
National Park. Venezuelan officials showed
up at the beach, collected the remains of
about 10 dolphins, and later said they were
actually dogs’ carcasses,” even though, “One
dolphin was still alive when discovered.”
Adds Romero, “In May 1994,
Victor Arango, a reporter for the syndicated
TV program American Journal, went to the
same village where we made our video.
There he interviewed a number of fisherman.
All of them said on camera that they had been
harpooning dolphins for shark bait for years
and that they still do it.”
Before releasing their video to the
media, Romero and Agudo say, they tried
to use it to persuade the Venezuelan govern-
ment to create a coastal cetacean sanctuary
and adopt a national marine mammal protec-
tion act. The video was released in May
1993, after the Venezuelan office of the
Attorney General failed to act.
By October 1993, BIOMA and
F u n d a c e t a c e a had collected 45,000 petition
signatures in support of the demands for dol-
phin protection. Still the Venezuelan govern-
ment didn’t act.
Then one evening Romero showed
the video to a conservation biology class he
teaches at the University of Miami. Russ
Rector of the Dolphin Freedom Foundation
attended. Known for waging confrontational
media campaigns, “Rector asked if he could
receive a copy,” Romero remembers. “It was
provided to him at no cost and without
restrictions. Rector later elected to release
the full, unedited tape to the media. This
resulted in November 1993 television news
broadcasts” of the tape in the U.S. “As a con-
sequence,” Romero continues, the
Venezuelan Embassy in Washington D.C.
and the Venezuelan General Consulate’s
office in Miami claim to have received over
20,000 letters of protest.”
Venezuela retaliated. “Since most
environmental organizations in Venezuela
received money from the government, they
were compelled to sign a communique in
which they stated that dolphins are not killed
in Venezuela, despite the fact that they had
never worked with dolphins,” Romero
charges. “Our telephones were tapped. In
early January 1994, the two fishermen who
killed the dolphins were arrested seven times
in five days, once with their small children,
and were made to sign a confession in which
they claimed we had tricked them.”
Within a few more days, both
Romero and Agudo were formally accused of
killing the dolphins by a tribunal which
allegedly gave them no chance to respond.
The two were almost simultaneously charged
with the same alleged offenses in Caracas.
“Later on,” Romero adds, “the government
announced they were going to try both of us
for ‘treason to the motherland.’ It is unclear
whether or not the government is going to
press such a charge,” but after receiving
death threats at his home from persons indi-
cating familiarity with his daughters’ school
schedules, Romero fled to Miami with the
children on February 19, 1994. His wife fol-
lowed a few days later.
The case escalated in April 1994,
as a judge in Carupano, Venezuela, issued a
warrant for Romero and Agudo, “but
released the fishermen who actually killed the
dolphin,” according to Romero, who notes
that, “This judge made calls to TV talk
shows, saying for the record that if arrested,
we would never be released from jail.”
Venezuela then announced it would attempt
to extradite Romero from the U.S.––for
which there is only one precedent, the
attempted extradition of former dictator Perez
Jiminez more than 35 years ago.
Since then, for more than a year,
it’s been a war of nerves. The extradition
request, if ever formally issued, isn’t likely
to be honored. The U.S. State Department,
Americas Watch, and Amnesty International
have all rapped Venezuela within the past
two years for human rights abuses, a point
Romero emphasizes, noting that the govern-
ment has reportedly even tried to purge his
books from stores and libraries.
“The judiciary is corrupt and politi-
cally manipulated,” he charges. “The use of
torture against detainees is frequent, prison
conditions are extremely harsh, people ‘dis-
appear’ after being arrested, and dozens are
extra-judicially executed by security forces.”
Romero, in Miami, is currently
safe from everything but assassination, kid-
napping, and/or attacks on his family.
However, “Professor Agudo is still hiding in
Venezuela and I am very concerned about his
situation if the Venezuelan security forces get
him,” Romero told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “I
think the only possibility for him is to create
such a public uproar that the government will
not have any other choice but to drop the
charges against him and myself.”
Agudo’s father allegedly shot him-
self in December, under the stress of repeated
interrogation by the security forces, who then
staked out the funeral, keeping Agudo away.
In January, Agudo’s wife gave birth to their
first child. Again, he was unable to attend.
(The Venzuelan embassy is located
at 1099 30th Street, NW, Washington, DC
20007; Fax 202-342-6820.)
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