Whale Wars continue — despite Wikileaks

That the Sea Shepherd’s and Japanese whalers are skirmishing again — a recent tête-à-tête included the sling shotting of stink bombs (by the Shepherds) and false attempts to ram (by the Japanese) — the bigger news was the Wikileaks release of conversations between representatives of the U.S. government and their Japanese counterparts about how to shutdown the increasingly popular conservation group.

On the eve of a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in November 2009, a U.S. representative, Monica Medina, apparently broached the idea with senior officials from Japan’s Fisheries Agency of the possibility of revoking Sea Shepherd’s tax-exempt status.

On what basis? According to the leaked cable, first published on Wikileaks website and then in the Spanish daily El Pais, it was because the group “does not deserve tax exempt status based on their aggressive and harmful actions.”

In the past the Japanese have suggested if the Shepherd’s would stop chasing them, they might actually slow down their annual whale hunts. The group’s charismatic leader Paul Watson, for one, doesn’t trust them. “This is not about politics, it’s about economics,” he has said. “They will stop until they realize it is bad business, not because some government tells them to.”

In the cables both governments labeled the conservation group’s annual anti-whaling campaign an “irritant” in international relations.

Contacted by the AP aboard his ship Steve Irwin in the Southern Ocean, you could almost hear the glee in Watson’s reaction to the leaked cables, saying the secret talks proved Sea Shepherd was having an effect.

“We have had our tax status since 1981, and we have done nothing different since then to cause the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to change that,” he said by telephone.

Meanwhile the daily cold war continues off the coast of Antarctica. For the past week the Sea Shepherd ships have been pursuing the Japanese factory ship the Nisshin Maru ever since finding the whaling fleet on December 31st. The pursuit has now covered a thousand miles.

If things continue like this – lots of harassment and engagement, few whales taken, no loss of life or ships and lots of media coverage — the Shepherd’s and Watson will be satisfied. As will the “Whale Wars” camera crews onboard documenting a fourth season.

This season’s campaign motto? “Operation No Compromise.” Watson’s goal is to cause enough distractions to force the whalers to give up and go home. For good.

Read more from Jon Bowermaster’s Adventures here.

[Flickr image via gsz]

Wikileaks Outs Chagos Island Conservation Deal

It was big news last April when the U.K. announced – backed by nine prominent international environmental groups – that it was turning its Chagos Island group in the Indian Ocean into the world’s largest marine reserve.

But a cable included in the Wikileaks dump suggests that reasons other than “environmental protection” may have been the impetus for the set aside.

Known as “the other Galapagos,” the Chagos Islands are regarded as one of the world’s richest marine ecosystems. The 55-islands that make up the chain are home to the world’s largest coral reef atoll (the Great Chagos Bank), 220 species of coral, nearly 800 species of fish, dozens of nesting seabirds types, endangered green turtles and critically endangered hawksbill turtles, coconut crabs and endemic plant life which has thrived there for the past 4,000 years.

One reason for the creation of the 545,000 square kilometer park – twice the size of the U.K., bigger than California and France — was to ban commercial fishing from the area for at least five years, maybe longer.

“This measure is a further demonstration of how the U.K. takes its international environmental responsibilities seriously,” said U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband upon the reserve’s announcement.

But the allocation sparked a resettlement fight that had been going on in European courts for a couple decades. Between 1967 and 1973 roughly 4,000 Chagossians were deported from the islands to make way for a giant U.S. nuclear air force base on the group’s largest island, Diego Garcia. Since then, other than endangered turtles and coconut crabs, the only inhabitants of the islands have been American military. The former Chagossians have been living in exile in Britain, Mauritius and other islands since, many hoping to one day return home.But setting the islands aside as a marine reserve essentially shut the door on those claims for good, with both environmentalists and human rights activists apparently choosing to look the other way.

At the time, leaders of those wanting to return home claimed loudly that environmental groups were being “used” by the government.

“The fish have more rights than us,” said Roch Evenor, secretary of the UK Chagos Support Association, who left the island when he was four, said at the time of the reserves creation.

“The environment groups were beguiled [into giving their support],” said former high commissioner of Mauritius, David Snoxell. “If the government designates a protection area they would be erecting a psychological, legal and economic barrier against the Chagossians, and send a strong message that they would not be welcome in their homeland. It would be highly prejudicial.”

Now, thanks to Wikileaks, it looks like those concerns were correct.

As reporter Dan Bacher uncovered in cables sent from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Director, Overseas Territories to the U.S. embassy, setting up the marine reserve effectively “stymied the return of the former islanders.”

The U.K. Guardian published the embassy cable on its website. “We do not regret the removal of the population,” Colin Roberts wrote in May 2009, “since removal was necessary for the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) to fulfill its ‘strategic purpose.’ “
He went on: “Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in the BIOT.”

Apparently the British government was less concerned with protecting endangered marine life and more about protecting its relationship with the U.S., which has allegedly used Diego Garcia as a destination for deposing terror suspects.

While the marine park set up banned fishing from the islands, when it was being conceived British officials assured the U.S. that its creation would in no way impede the island’s uses for military purposes.

The park was announced with the blessing of the U.K. government, the Obama administration and the support of nine prominent environmental groups ranging from the Pew Environment Group to Greenpeace.

[image via Wikimedia commons]

Five travel suggestions for Julian Assange of Wikileaks

If you were just let out of solitary confinement after having wandered the globe, where would you go? Now, let’s make it complicated: what if you were one of the most controversial figures on the planet?

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is now out on bail, and for now, he’s staying in the United Kingdom. But, there’s some doubt on how long he’ll be there, since the charges on which he’s being held may not be crimes there (though they are in Sweden, which is the country that wants him).

Well, he’s been granted bail, which means he’s out of solitary confinement but that his ability to travel is still constrained. If he winds up free of the charges against him in Sweden, Assange will probably want to hit the road for a bit and enjoy his newfound mobility … and Gadling is ready with some options.

Here are five travel alternatives for Julian Assange if he beats the rap (please forward this to Assange if you know him):

1. Washington, D.C.: given that he gets a lot of material from our nation’s capital, he could double it up as a work/pleasure trip. Nothing beats multitasking!

2. Reykjavik: Iceland has its own problems; I strongly suspect they don’t give a damn about any emotional or historical baggage that Assange will stuff into an IcelandAir overhead compartment.

3. Pyongyang: The U.S. State Department isn’t particularly active there, which means Assange will be able to vacation in relative peace. Even better, he could go to the Majong Bathing Resort and relax on the beach for a bit.

4. Back in time: since Assange’s lawyer claimed he was being “held in Orwellian conditions,” maybe he should revisit 1984 to see just how accurate the claim is.

5. Stockholm: nothing is as satisfying as delivering a big ol’ F*** YOU in person to the people who wanted to detain you.

Assange can’t really go anywhere until his next court appearance, which is on January 11, 2011. So, he’ll be in the London area for a while especially with curfews and a daily 6 PM check-in at the police station (I wonder if there’s a badge for that on FourSquare …).

If you know Assange, please send him this link with a few ideas on how he can spend his time.

[Via Business Insider, photo by Mataparda via Flickr]

Ten ways to travel like Qadhafi, according to Wikileaks diplomatic cables

So, if you were a Middle Eastern strongman leader, how would you hit the town in New York City? I don’t know about you, but I’d want to do it with a real looker on my arm (and everywhere else). Apparently, that’s what Muammar al-Qadhafi has in mind. According to confidential diplomatic cables recently unearthed by Wikileaks and published by the NY Times, the Libyan leader prefers to travel in style. Specifically, he can’t “travel without his senior Ukrainian nurse, Galyna Klotnytska.”

The Wikileaks-released cable continues:

He also appears to have an intense dislike or fear of staying on upper floors, reportedly prefers not to fly over water, and seems to enjoy horse racing and flamenco dancing. His recent travel may also suggest a diminished dependence on his legendary female guard force, as only one woman bodyguard accompanied him to New York. End Summary.

So, what else is on Qadhafi’s list of travel necessities? Well, he makes the likes of Axl Rose seem pretty easy to accommodate. Here are ten of my favorites:1. A plan: Qadhafi doesn’t like leaving details to chance, it seems. Over his 40-year rule, the cable says, “arious proclivities and phobias began to reveal themselves in every logistical detail.”

2. Efficiency: why take a new picture for his visa? Qadhafi noted that he had portraits of himself on “hundreds of billboards” in Tripoli. Surely, one of them could be “shrunken to fit the application’s criteria.” (Eventually, he agreed to have his picture taken for the visa application, though.)

3. Ground floor: Qadhafi “must stay on the first floor of any facility that was rented for him.” I also prefer to stay on the first floor, preferring not to have to wait when I want to get back to my room. I also like a room near elevators when I can’t stay on the first floor.

4. Tents: no, not the kind that happens first thing in the morning when you wake up … Qadhfi actually wanted “accommodations with room to pitch [his] Bedouin tent … as it offers him a non-verbal way of communicating that he is a man close to his cultural

5. Leg-stretching: the Libyan leader is not a fan of long flights and won’t stay in the air longer than eight hours. In fact, he stops in Portugal before heading all the way to New York. Qadhafi reportedly hates to fly over water.

6. His crew: Qadhafi, like most world leaders, doesn’t travel alone. In fact, he “appears to be almost obsessively dependent on a small core of trusted personnel.”

7. His ladies: Kolotnytska, the senior nurse and “voluptuous blonde” isn’t the only girl Qadhafi has in his life. He has a staff of four Ukrainian nurses, but Kolotnytska is his favorite. When problems appeared to be coming because of a late visa application, “the Libyan Government sent a private jet to ferry her from Libya to Portugal to meet up with the Leader during his rest-stop.”

8. Dancing: Qadhafi, apparently, is a fan of the arts. He loves to watch dance troupes, with one visit featuring some from the Ukraine, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco. He’s also enjoyed bands from Mexico, Russia and New Zealand, among others. However, Qadhafi has a soft spot for flamenco, once deciding to “stop in Seville (for a “personal trip” according to the Spanish Ambassador here) on his way back to Libya from Venezuela specifically to attend a flamenco dance performance.”

9. Security … not so much: once upon a time, Qadhafi’s female guards were part of his entourage. This isn’t really the case any more, with only one of the lovely ladies accompanying him.

10. Friends: it’s important to communicate with Qadhafi, it seems, because he’s been isolated so long. Like Shaft, the cable identifies the Libyan leader as “a complicated individual”. And, given the nurses and guards, the parallels with Shaft continue … “no one understands him but his woman …”

[photo by StartAgain via Flickr]