From September to December 2008, the vegan conservation group Sea Shepherd waged a fight to protect the ecosystem and all the animals of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. This blog recounts what happened in that time, serving for the group.
The post below describes what the first part of the new campaign strategy was like. We had to tackle the first and most prevalent argument against SSCS’s presence in the Galapagos.
Argument 1: Galapagos Pride
The first argument against our interference was one of cultural pride.
1: “You judgmental foreigners come here and try to crush indigenous Ecuadorians saying, ‘Oh, you primitive people, THIS is how you should run your own culture!'”
This was a very interesting argument. The truth is, Ecuadorians actually aren’t indigenous to the Galapagos. Indeed, no humans are. And probably over 90% of the Ecuadorian settlers came here within the past 20 years, more than a decade after the UN declared the Galapagos an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and long after all the conservation laws were put in place for the Galapagos.
Nevertheless, the PERCEPTION is that the Ecuadorians here are an ancient, indigenous tribe, and that no one, not even the government of Ecuador, has the right to interfere with any of the poaching or smuggling or ecological destruction they cause here. And the perception controlled how people acted and implemented policies in the Galapagos. And that doesn’t even touch upon the most ironic aspect of this all.
The most ironic thing is, almost all of the poaching and smuggling problems that happen here are caused by FOREIGN companies. All of the giant poaching ships that come here are either Costa Rican or some other nationality; the giant tuna poaching vessel I saw and talked about in the first post in this series, the Rocio, actually belonged to a US company. When Sean O’Hean made all his busts in Ecuador, he was getting Chinese mob bosses arrested, and every time Sea Shepherd challenged a poaching vessel in the Galapagos, it was a foreign ship. But the perception was that Sea Shepherd was taking down Ecuadorians, even though we were trying to protect the vital ecosystem that so many Ecuadorians made their living off of.
Solution 1: Peaceful Rebels
If the problems of the Galapagos are to be solved, the Galapaganeans have to lead the charge. It wasn’t just the perception of evil foreigners that made this so. It was the fact that the locals had an extreme amount of power. They were the ones all over the islands, they were the ones so powerful that they could effect people’s perceptions all over the world, they were they ones who made everything happen on these islands.
So, I just started walking around and talking to people from every walk of life, telling them how I truly just wanted to help them shed foreign influence. That as a foreigner, I didn’t want to be in control, why would I? It wasn’t my country. All I wanted was to find out what they wanted and help them obtain it with any resource I had. And I found the Galapagos a very different place when I did this.
I found people who were sick of the military corruption that let the foreign poachers do anything they wanted here. Sick of all the poaching and the illegal trafficking on their island that delivered all of their natural resources to China. Sick of the problems that so many NGO’s promised to solve but still existed. I started to encounter all sorts of people willing to help me challenge the status quo. People were very affable and actually offered many ideas on how to help. It was an unbelievable shift from the attitudes I encountered a few weeks before.
In a nutshell, this was the key. People wanted change but didn’t know how to start. So, I actually did very little at this point. All I did was get people together, introducing various people from different islands to each other, and create a small consortium of former smugglers, minor politicians, rich and poor people. And I trained them to be peaceful rebel pirates, SSCS style.
Most of the organizing they did among themselves, and I just gave them some infrastructure, some training on how to rebel legally through information gathering, and I taught them how to gather evidence that would be useful to causing long-term change.
And already, this small band of nonviolent rebels had generated an impressive arsenal of work. They uncovered government corruption, they discovered many of the sources of smuggling, and most importantly, they started to gain evidence of organized crime. The world I tried so hard to penetrate for months, these people managed to find on their own in a matter of days. We now know which families are responsible for a lot of the organized crime on each island of the Galapagos. The amount of documents and other evidence they have would still be easily overcome by a system as connected and corrupt as the poaching and smuggling world I’ve had to deal with, but that soon will change.
Next week’s post will cover the second argument against SSCS’s presence in the Galapagos.