Artful Dodge gets Agudo family out of Venezuela

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1996:

GLENCOE, Missouri––Wanted for treason by Venezuela, because in February
1993 he and colleague Aldemaro Romero videotaped fishers in the act of killing a dolphin,
Professor Ignacio Agudo is safe in Brazil, after two years on the run. His daughters Esther,
seven, and Lina, 15 months, are with him.
Romero too is alive and well, having escaped to Miami in February 1994. His wife
followed soon after. But Agudo’s wife Saida, Esther and Lina’s mother, died in hiding on
April 26, 1995, at age 36, because she couldn’t get medication she needed for a chronic
heart condition. Their grandfather, Agudo’s father, repeatedly interrogated by Venezuelan
police, shot himself in December 1994, to avoid giving away their location.

Alice and Ken Dodge, who in February escorted Agudo to safety, are heaving
sighs of relief back home in the St. Louis suburbs, where Alice heads the Pet Search no-kill
adoption center. Alice has been bringing kittens and puppies to safety from points around the
Caribbean and adopting them out through Pet
Search for more than a decade, but the
Agudo rescue, which she undertook on
request from ANIMAL PEOPLE, was her
first on behalf of a human being. It required
the Dodges to travel to Caracas, an unfamiliar
city, by cruise ship, on short notice, at
their own expense; make contact with
Agudo, whom neither had ever met, who
speaks no English; provide Agudo with identification
as Alice’s husband; smuggle
Agudo aboard the ship, past suspicious
guards with automatic rifles and machetes;
keep him hidden for 24 hours; and get him
safely back off the ship in Aruba, where she
delivered him to a Latin American journalist,
who as part of a second operation coordinated
by Romero and Brazilian marine mammologist
Jose Palazzo Truda arranged to relay
Agudo and his daughters on to Brazil.
Ken meanwhile had to follow Alice
aboard the ship and to Aruba without giving
away his identity as her actual husband.
Advised at the last minute by Truda
that international animal protection organizations
including one with an annual budget of
$2.7 million were pleading poverty when
asked to help, ANIMAL PEOPLE c o ntributed
$700 to cover the flight of the family
from Aruba to Brazil.
It all worked perfectly but for one
hitch: as Alice and Ken left their cruise ship
to fetch Agudo, their hands were stamped
with fluorescent ink. No one would be
allowed back aboard without not only paper
identification, which they had for Agudo,
but also the stamp––which they had no way
to replicate.
“I almost had a heart attack,”
Dodge told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “I’d
planned for everything but that. I was so
afraid of letting everyone down, especially
Ignacio and the little girls.”
But necessity is the mother of
invention, and Alice thinks fast on her feet.
As she approached the checkpoint, returning
with Agudo, even people already aboard the
ship could hear her tell the world that her
“husband” was a dunce, who would end up
with the rats in a Venezuelan jail because
he’d mosied off the ship with his hands in his
pockets, and would be lucky if some triggerhappy
guard didn’t stand him up against a
wall and shoot him.
The guards didn’t like that implication,
what they understood of it. They didn’t
like Alice, a large woman whose rage can
terrify even people who are heavily armed.
They saw Agudo’s discomfort. With a
glance of sympathy, they waved him past.
Safely aboard ship, Ken Dodge and
Agudo, neither normally drinkers, quelled
their nerves by quickly killing a bottle of
rum. Alice went back ashore. She’d seen a
scrawny kitten on the dock.
“You’re crazy,” Ken warned her.
“They’ll throw you in jail.”
“I’m going to get that kitten,” said
Alice, and did, naming her Vinnie.
It was a point of honor. Just a
month earlier, on January 22, Alice tried to
take a mother cat, nine kittens, and three
puppies from Barbados to Puerto Rico,
aboard the Carnival Cruise Lines vessel
F e s t i v a l––a run she had made many times.
The puppies and three kittens came from the
Royal SPCA in Barbados. Unadoptable
there, due to low demand, they could easily
be placed by Pet Search.
This time, however, an RSPCA
employee acting independently of management
informed the cruise line that Dodge
might be transporting the animals illegally.
The puppies and three kittens adopted from
the RSPCA were confiscated and euthanized,
along with a fourth kitten acquired as a stray,
purportedly because the stray had not been
vaccinated against rabies or quarantined,
even though there is no known rabies in
Barbados and Dodge guaranteed the costs of
a quarantine. F e s t i v a l security staff then
searched Dodge’s stateroom, after putting to
sea, confiscating the five kittens and the
mother cat. Three of those kittens died, too,
apparently of neglect, before Dodge convinced
the crew to return the rest or else.
ANIMAL PEOPLE inquiries into
the incident have been met by stonewalling
and evasion. To Dodge, who called A N IMAL
PEOPLE in tears from Puerto Rico,
after learning of the animals’ deaths, the
Agudo mission wouldn’t be complete without
rescuing at least one animal, too, in their
memory. And so it was done.
Agudo in February 1993 was president
of Fundacetacea (The Whale Fund), a
leading Venezuelan marine mammal protection
organization. Romero, author of more
than 300 scientific papers, was executive
director of the Venezuelan Foundation for the
Conservation of Biological Diversity
(BIOMA). Venezuela, then and now, was
campaigning to weaken the U.S. law barring
the import of tuna netted “on dolphin,”
which has effectively kept Venezuelan tuna
off the U.S. market.
The Agudo/Romero video, showing
Venezuelan fishers deliberately killing a
dolphin for use as bait, with the remains of
13 other dolphins on the beach behind them,
was intended to help persuade Venezuela to
create a coastal cetacean sanctuary and adopt
a national marine mammal protection act.
Agudo and Romero didn’t release the video
to media until May 1993, after the
Venezuelan attorney general refused to halt
the dolphin killing they had documented. It
reached U.S. media in November 1993,
when Russ Rector of the Dolphin Freedom
Foundation obtained a copy from Romero,
made duplicates, and sent them out to TV
Reportedly receiving 20,000 letters
of protest from American viewers,
Venezuela retaliated. “Since most environmental
organizations in Venezuela received
money from the government,” Romero told
ANIMAL PEOPLE in early 1995, “they
were compelled to sign a communique in
which they stated that dolphins are not killed
in Venezuela. 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 tricked them.”
Within days Agudo and Romero
were indicted for allegedly bribing the fishers
to kill the dolphins––with $4.95 worth of rum
and gasoline. The treason charges followed.
Life on the run began. Asked for help, major
international animal protection and conservation
groups did nothing.
Explained Neil Trent of the World
Society for the Protection of Animals, which
has an office in Bogota, when approached by
ANIMAL PEOPLE about the possibility of
setting up a diversionary event on Agudo’s
behalf, to help cover the Dodges, “We can
do nothing that would jeopardize our international
position by violating the laws of
Venezuela or Colombia.” WSPA, Trent
said, might be willing to facilitate negotiations,
if Agudo wanted to arrange his surrender
to Venezuela.
“I think the only possibility for him
is to create such a public uproar that
Venezuela will not have any choice but to
drop the charges,” Romero decided in April
1995. S c i e n c e had just made the
Agudo/Romero story public. The Wall Street
Journal picked it up from there and put it on
page one of their March 15, 1995 edition.
Thus alerted, ANIMAL PEOPLE
made contact with Romero through Steven
Green of the University of Miami, where
Romero holds an unpaid honorary position.
We put Agudo and Romero on page one of
our May 1995 edition, and followed up as
often as new information became available.
Earth Island Journal, published by Earth
Island Institute, picked up the story from
All the while, Romero kept saying,
he was working on one possibility after
another of somehow rescuing the Agudo family.
On Christmas Eve he said he finally had
a plan in place. He just needed a few more
contacts. We offered our help. Romero
deliberated, then called the morning of
January 5. “It’s set up,” he said. “We just
have to get Ignacio to Aruba.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE called Alice.
Also in our May 1995 edition, with the
Agudo/Romero story, we profiled Alice and
Pet Search, founded in memory of her son,
Kenny, the youngest of her five children, an
animal lover who was killed, at age five, in
a 1984 car crash. Grief had made her fearless.
Alice knows the Caribbean. And as her
friend Judith Messimer says, “If I was a lost,
sick, hungry stray cat or dog, Alice Dodge is
the face I’d most want to see.”
“This one’s for Kenny,” Alice said.
And she did the job, with Messimer securely
relaying sensitive communications. Alice
said she didn’t need public credit, which various
groups claimed a piece of once Agudo
and daughters were in Brazil, but donations
are still welcome at Pet Search, 1553 Pond
Road, Glencoe, MO 63038.
A press conference to tell the
Agudo/Romero story to Brazilian media was
scheduled for March 24. The International
Wildlife Coalition and Cetacean Society
International issued online appeals asking
that “a flood of faxes” on Agudo’s behalf be
sent to Christian Koch, United Nations High
Commission for Refugees, ACNUR/Brasil,
Faxes will help Agudo to secure the
refugee status he needs in order to earn a living.
He’s already at work. “In Aruba he
wrote a plan to save the coastal cetaceans
there,” Truda told ANIMAL PEOPLE o n
March 23. “He has not been able to write for
a long time, and now I cannot get him to stop
Romero also needs a job, to secure
his U.S. status; a temporary consulting post
ended earlier this year. He may be reached
c/o >><<,

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