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Blog of a Vegan Pirate in Galapagos, Post 7: Second Part of the New Plan

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 analyzes more of the arguments the locals had against Sea Shepherd operating in the Galapagos, and how the plan adjusted accordingly.

This next argument is also quite interesting. It’s similar to the first, but angers people in a different and important way.

Argument 2: Poverty

2: “You rich gringos come here and antagonize all the poor locals who are just trying to make a living!”

The perception is that Sea Shepherd is trying to shut down poor people from making any living. Of course, this is also fascinatingly far from the truth. When Sean O’Hearn made his busts, the people he targeted were the crime bosses. Chinese businessmen, military commanders, high ranking politicians. The Sea Shepherd organization has zero interest in shutting down poor people (that and I was pretty miserably poor compared to anyone I was trying to oppose). But, the PERCEPTION that we do is very important, because so many people WANT to believe it.

When O’Hearn was initially deported from Ecuador, it was because the President heard that O’Hearn was kicking down the doors of impoverished fishermen and stealing their fish so they couldn’t feed their families. Now, it may seem obvious that such a rumor – that the head of a major international NGO would be spending his time going around stealing from the poor – would require some fact checking. But the idea that this rich American was going around pushing his weight on penniless, helpless Ecuadorians was so attractive that the President didn’t bother to check up on it. When the truth came out that O’Hearn was a humble man married to an Ecuadorian woman and that the couple had a two-year old child together, the President lost face because of his impetuousness, further cooling relations between Sea Shepherd and Ecuador.

The point is, this is an extremely powerful perception. One that wasn’t going to be easily overcome. To address it, I had to spend time being taken on tours of the ghettos of the Galapagos. I didn’t even know what I wanted to accomplish there initially, but I had to at least see the poverty and examine it.

Solution 2: Radical Ideas

However, it wasn’t long before the answer presented itself. There were so many animals who needed help there, and it wasn’t long before friends and I tried to rescue some. The locals from the ghetto started to greet us, and ask if we were there to provide them with vet and other social services. We earnestly said yes, and were so happy to see that even some of the poorest of Ecuadorians there were longing for better care for their animals. They simply didn’t know how to take good care of their pets. There was no vet hospital, no hospital program to teach them how to take care of the ecosystem they depended on for a living, no hospital program to teach them how to take care of their pets.

This approach also taught both me and them that we had the same goals and that there was no reason not to trust each other in pursuing it together. I came across a perhaps radical idea at this point. My idea was to create the first full time veterinary clinic or hospital in all of the Galapagos. The first bona fide vet office that could handle animal health problems and, probably more importantly, teach people how to take care of their animals and environment. Run by individuals who, unlike the government offices, wouldn’t worry about picking up their neighbor’s dogs off the streets until the owners could pick up their dogs again. A place where such owners could be gently taught the best way to keep their dog and neighborhood healthy.

But that’s when I had to deal with the third argument.

Next week’s post will cover the third argument and how the plan to help Galapagos was effected by it.

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