From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1997:

WASHINGTON D.C.––Only the threat of filibuster
by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) remained to
keep revocation of the “dolphin safe” tuna import standard
from sliding through the Senate and into law, after the House
of Representatives approved HR 408, dubbed “the dolphin
death bill” by opponents, 262-166, on May 21. Unless Boxer
succeeds in indefinitely delaying the Senate vote this year, as
last year, the revocation bill will come before the Senate for a
vote later this summer as HR 39, and is strongly favored by
the Bill Clinton/Albert Gore administration.
The revocation, to bring U.S. law into conformity
with the 1994 Panama Agreement, will allow the fleets of 11
other nations to resume selling the U.S. tuna netted “on dolphin,”
but will require that no dolphins are seen being killed.

Dolphins and tuna often swim together, the dolphins at the
surface and the tuna below. The Panama Agreement is
favored by the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, the Center
for Marine Conservation, the Environmental Defense Fund,
and the National Wildlife Federation, who argue that encircling
dolphins with nets to catch tuna does less harm to sea
turtles, sharks, and other endangered marine life than the
leading alternative methods.
Most other animal and habitat advocacy groups
agree that one cannot effectively protect any species by weakening
protection of other.
Testified Earthtrust Project Delphis research director
Ken Marten, of Kailua, Hawaii, in a June 18 open letter
to the marine mammologists’ online forum MARMAM: “I
am an ex-National Marine Fisheries Service porpoise observer
on tuna boats, as well as a cetacean research biologist. As
someone who has witnessed thousands of dolphin deaths at
sea, you can imagine my perspective on this issue compared
to debating the life or health of single dolphins or whales. The
new legislation will set an annual quota of 5,000––a number
that can and almost certainly will be killed in one net set by
one tuna boat in one hour. As a former porpoise observer
myself, I can state with some authority that the proposed
observer program would be useless. With a quota in place and
no realistic way to monitor the kill, it is basically open season
again on the dolphins.”
Added marine mammologist Phil Clapham, “This
issue goes far beyond dolphin deaths. It has major ramifications
for free trade,” [including the weight of the 1992
International Dolphin Conservation Act as a precedent for the
pending European Union ban on the import of fur taken by
leghold trapping], “and also involves a host of other issues,
including even drug policy, since foreign tuna boats have
been implicated in the shipment of narcotics.”
Earth Island Institute hit the cocaine connection hard
with an April 29 full-page ad in The New York Times. “The
Eastern Tropical Pacific is now the main cocaine route from
Colombia north to Mexico,” the ad asserted. “Seizures of a
fraction of this traffic reveal a disturbing pattern. Tuna fishing
boats flying the flags of Panama and Ecuador have been
stopped with huge amounts of cocaine. The largest maritime
bust in history was 12 tons on a tuna boat in 1995. Another 7-
ton load was discovered in 1996. Many Mexican-flagged tuna
boats are suspected of smuggling cocaine. How far have the
drug lords penetrated? Panama’s tuna fleet was owned by
Jose Castrillon Henao, arrested for drug trafficking and a
kingpin in the Cali, Colombia drug cartel. Castrillon also
owns several Mexican fishing companies. His Mexican agent
is currently under house arrest on money laundering charges.
Both tuna operations in Mexico and Panama are implicated in
smuggling and money laundering.”
Further, the ad charged, “The governments of
Mexico and Venezuela are spending millions of dollars in
Washington D.C., hiring top lobbying and public relations
firms to help jam the Dolphin Death Act through an all too
compliant Congress. Why is the Mexican government so
intent on lifting the restrictions? Raul Salinas, brother of the
former [Mexican] president and under arrest on murder and
money-laundering charges, is alleged to have an ownership
interest in the largest tuna fishing fleet in Mexico, the
Pescadora Azteca company.”
The ad was illustrated with a photo of U.S. vice
president Al Gore posing with convicted drug trafficker Jorge
Cabrera at a 1996 fundraiser in Florida. Cabrera gave $20,000
toward the re-election of the Clinton/Gore ticket. The funds
were later returned by the Democratic National Committee.
The allegations parallel intimations by Homero
Aridjis, president of Grupo de los Cien Internacional, in an
essay, “The Salinas in Baja California Sur: The Third
Partner,” published by La Reforma, a leading Mexican newspaper,
in March, 1996. Aridjis, however, hinted that opening
cocaine routes may explain the interest of the Salinas family
in enabling the Mitsubishi conglomerate and the Mexicna
government to jointly open a salt production facility beside
San Ignacio Lagoon, an important gray whale calving area.
The project is managed by Exportado de Sal, S.A., ESSA for
short. Development was suspended in 1995, after the initial
environmental impact study was rejected by Mexican environmental
authorities, but Aridjis warned on June 18 of this year
that a new impact study might be issued “at any moment,”
potentially bringing a restart.
“What will happen after the government has handed
over 100,000 acres to ESSA,” Aridjis asked, “turning a large
part of the Vizcaino Desert Biosphere Reserve into a noman’s-land
where trucks, ships, and planes come and go at
will? In the March 1, 1996 issue of Reforma, this area was
identified as part of a major drug-running route. Cocaine is
dropped at Guerrero Negro, to be moved north to Ensenada
and Tiajuana, on the American border. According to E l
F i n a n c i e r o for February 15, 1996, one of Mexico’s ‘black
holes,’ where low-flying planes are not picked up by radar, is
located ‘at the meeting point of the states of Baja California
Norte and Baja California Sur, in Ojo de Liebre Lagoon (the
famous gray whale sanctuary), Guerrero Negro, and part of
the Vizcaino Desert.”
This all might be dismissed as mere paranoid conspiracy
theory, except that experts believe the illegal drug
traffic between the U.S. and Latin America may involve a dollar
volume comparable to that of the most lucratic commodities
in legal trade, and profits far higher.

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