Cap­tain Paul Wat­son a Hero to Costa Rica

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For more than 15 years, the cor­rupt government of Costa Rica has been try­ing to have Cap­tain Paul Wat­son ar­rested and im­pris­oned for stop­ping Costa Ri­can poach­ers in Gu­atemala in part­ner­ship with the Gu­ata­malan government. They still have an in­ter­na­tional "Red No­tice" ar­rest war­rant on In­ter­pol for him.

Costa Ri­can Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­ment Car­los Manuel Ro­dríguez thinks that it is time for the Costa Ri­can government to drop the bo­gus charges and ac­cept the Cana­dian-amer­i­can en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist as the hero he is.

Cap­tain Wat­son has been an en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist for nearly al­most as many years as the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment has ex­isted. He has spo­ken of find­ing his call­ing go­ing back to a sweat cer­e­mony as part of the Oglala Sioux tribe in the early 1970s. There he had a vi­sion of a great buf­falo who told him to pro­tect the whales and other mam­mals of the sea. He fol­lowed that call­ing dur­ing a short pe­riod of ser­vice with the Cana­dian Coast Guard, in which he and the crew fo­cused on pro­tect­ing ma­rine mam­mals. Then in 1972 he helped found Green­peace. There he fol­lowed through what he had be­gun in the Coast Guard. His ear­li­est mis­sions there were to stop il­le­gal whal­ing and pro­tect baby harp seals.

Wat­son left Green­peace in the late 1970s and founded Sea Shep­herd, his own en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion. Since then and for 40 years since, Cap­tain Wat­son has be­come glob­ally renowned for hav­ing done so much to pro­tect so many of the oceans’ crea­tures, both en­dan­gered and not. In re­cent years he has also ded­i­cated mul­ti­ple trav­els to pro­tect the Vaquita por­poise, a mag­nif­i­cent an­i­mal which is tee­ter­ing on the edge of ex­tinc­tion through harm­ful fish­ing prac­tices. It lives in Mex­ico’s Gulf of Cal­i­for­nia, also known as the Sea of Cortez.

Though for many Wat­son has been seen as the oceans’ pro­tec­tor, it was his en­counter with Costa Rica’s government in 2002 which the coun­try’s cur­rent

Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­ment was think­ing of when he said he hoped the coun­try could wel­come Wat­son back to the coun­try as a hero. In that year, a decade and a half ago, one of Cap­tain Wat­son’s Sea Shep­herd ves­sels was pa­trolling in Gu­atemalan wa­ters. There, Wat­son and his crew con­fronted a ship from Puntare­nas, Costa Rica, for il­le­gal shark finning, a bru­tal and hideous treat­ment of yet an­other mis­un­der­stood and glo­ri­ous ocean dweller.

The poach­ers claim that Sea Shep­herd had tried to mur­der them and filed frad­u­lent com­plaints in Costa Ri­can court against Wat­son and his crew. The ini­tial charges were dropped by the gov­er­ment when it was clear from film footage of the en­counter that Wat­son and crew had done noth­ing wrong. Not long af­ter the first charges were dis­missed, charges of 8 counts of as­sault were filed and that case too was dis­missed af­ter the ev­i­dence was again pre­sented.

About that time it was made clear that if Sea Shep­herd paid the poach­ers $250,000 the mat­ter could be set­tled. Af­ter Sea Shep­herd re­fused to pay the bribes the poach­ers of­fered a $25,000 bounty for the head of Capt. Wat­son, more than enough in­cen­tive for him to be killed any­where in many coun­tries and es­pe­cially in Costa Rica where one can get even a po­lice­man to bump some­one off for a few hun­dred dol­lars.

Later, the Costa Ri­can government qui­etly is­sued an ar­rest war­rant again but this time it was for "dan­ger of ship­wreck and the first time that Capt. Wat­son heard of it was when he was ar­rested on a Red No­tice in Germany. The Ger­mans tem­po­rar­ily re­leased Capt. Wat­son and he fled Germany and spent the next 17 months at sea and re­turned to the U.S. only af­ter it agreed to ig­nore the Red No­tice.

The bo­gus charges have stuck with Wat­son and his group now for over those 15 years af­ter­wards. This is de­spite Wat­son’s peo­ple hav­ing al­ready reached out to the poach­ers to set­tle in Septem­ber 2016 in an out of court set­tle­ment. Both sides then at­tempted to bring that set­tle­ment into Crim­i­nal Court to be ac­cepted, and to have the long-stand­ing charges against the group dropped. This was un­for­tu­nately not ac­cept­able to the court, since the “dan­ger of ship­wreck” is not just a civil in­frac­tion un­der Costa Ri­can law. It is in­stead a crime.

In the in­ter­view with Costa Rica’s Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­ment, he called Wat­son a “conservation hero” de­spite the le­gal case still hang­ing over the Cap­tain for all these years. He also called for re­con­sid­er­a­tion of Wat­son’s sit­u­a­tion, say­ing that, “This crim­i­nal case is more than 10 years old and is not yet re­solved, you have this man in le­gal un­cer­tainty even with a war­rant against him. This seems like a real in­jus­tice to me, since there has been a con­cil­i­a­tion be­tween Cap­tain Paul Wat­son and the fish­er­men that gen­er­ated the con­flict which led to this crim­i­nal case.”

Min­is­ter Ro­driguez went to say that he con­sid­ered “Cap­tain Wat­son as a hero for conservation.” He said Wat­son was “one of those spe­cial peo­ple we have on the planet who still want to make pos­i­tive changes so that hu­man be­ings are more ra­tio­nal in the man­age­ment and use of nat­u­ral re­sources. I hope that this con­cil­i­a­tion he had with the fish­er­men will help to close this chap­ter and that the ju­di­cial process will be com­pleted, be­cause we would love to in­vite and re­ceive Cap­tain Wat­son as he de­serves – a hero for the pro­tec­tion of the oceans and sea an­i­mals.”

Min­is­ter Ro­driguez is part of a new government in Costa Rica, one that truly cel­e­brates the en­vi­ron­ment and is com­mit­ted to be a proper stew­ard for it.

When Cap­tain Paul Wat­son heard the Min­is­ter’s com­ments about him, he said, “This state­ment by the new Min­is­ter of the En­vi­ron­ment …her­alds a new chap­ter for conservation in Costa Rica. At last we now have a government that gets it, a government that will ad­dress conservation is­sues both ag­gres­sively and pos­i­tively. This has never been about me, it has been about what I rep­re­sent.”

Wat­son’s lawyer in Costa Rica, Abraham Stern, em­bold­ened by the new in­ter­view com­ments, filed a com­plaint Thurs­day be­fore the Public Min­istry against ten Costa Ri­can judges who have been ad­ver­saries to Wat­son’s group in the crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings of the past. Stern called at­ten­tion first to the set­tle­ment agree­ment al­ready in place with the fish­er­folk as of 2016. The lawyer has also filed a “de­nun­ci­a­tion of malfea­sance”, claim­ing the ac­tion of the judges was in­ap­pro­pri­ate any­way be­cause the Sea Shep­herd ves­sels were be­ing charged for al­leged crimes in Gu­atemalan wa­ters, and not those where Costa Ri­can law had any stand­ing.

Some believe that that Costa Rica has per­sisted in its false claims against Wat­son due to in­cen­tives from Ja­pan, which per­sists in its own fraud­u­lent charges against Wat­son and In­ter­pol Red No­tice for the en­tirely fraud­u­lent and dis­proven claims of "break­ing into the ves­sel, dam­age to prop­erty, forcible ob­struc­tion of busi­ness, in­jury."

Ja­pan has been re­peat­edly shamed pub­licly by Sea Shep­erd and ex­posed for its killing of whales in the South­ern Ocean Whale Sanc­tu­ary and dol­phins in Ja­pan.

In April this year Costa Rica wel­comed Ja­pan's State Min­is­ter for For­eign Af­fairs, Masahisa Sato, and ini­ti­ated ne­go­ti­a­tions for a gen­er­ous bi­lat­eral in­vest­ment treaty with Ja­pan.

Ja­pan is the world's sec­ond largest donor of aid and fre­quently uses its aid for po­lit­i­cal lever­age and to gain spe­cial treat­ment for its fa­vored cor­po­ra­tions and the Yakuza crim­i­nal mafia which is deeply in­volved in Ja­pan's whal­ing industry and in­te­grated with Ja­pan's government.

Per­haps with the help of the new Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­ment, Cap­tain Paul Wat­son may yet fi­nally shed Costa Rica's fraud­u­lent charges from the past. It could also make pos­si­ble a badly needed part­ner­ship be­tween the new en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­er­ship in charge in Costa Rica–and the en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ards of Sea Shep­herd.

Poach­ers still op­er­ate with im­punity in Costa Rica and the government won't al­lo­cate the re­sources to en­force the laws or tackle the cor­rup­tion that sup­ports the poach­ing. Sea Shep­herd could make a huge dif­fer­ence in Costa Rica, as it has done in many other coun­tries.

Photo © Sea Shep­herd

Ja­panese whaler Sho­nan Maru No. 2 ram­ming Sea Shep­herd's ship Bob Barker. Photo © Sea Shep­herd

Photo © Sea Shep­herd

High speed trim­i­ran MY Ady Gil af­ter be­ing run over by the Sho­nan Maru No. 2 on 6 Jan­uary 2010. The boat sank the next day af­ter sal­vage at­tempts were un­suc­cess­ful. The Ady Gil was cap­tained by Peter James Bethune who boarded Sho­nan Maru No. 2 a month later, was de­tained and taken to Tokyo where he was charged with board­ing a ves­sel without due cause, il­le­gal pos­ses­sion of a knife, de­struc­tion of prop­erty, as­sault and ob­struc­tion of busi­ness—for which he faced up to 15 years in prison. Bethune was re­leased in ex­change for claim­ing that Capt. Paul Wat­son had asked him to board the Sho­nan Maru No. 2 de­spite Wat­son be­ing recorded on video telling him not to. Bethune re­scinded the claim af­ter he was re­leased and left Ja­pan. Ja­pan charged Capt. Wat­son for Bethune's tres­pass and is­sued an in­ter­na­tional ar­rest war­rant that In­ter­pol con­tin­ues to sup­port.

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