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Cablegate: Galapagos Calm, for Now

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. Quito 2184
B. 04 Quito 1578

1. Summary. Fishermen questioning the GOE's sincerity in
finding economic alternatives for their sector walked out of
a meeting of the Galapagos Inter-institutional Management
Authority (AIM) on October 31. Recent progress bringing the
fishing sector back into a productive dialogue on Galapagos
conservation appears to be fading, raising fears that the
strikes and violence of 2004 may return. Although they
would like to avoid the legal backlash that comes with
strikes, fishermen may feel they have no other way to obtain
assistance from the GOE. While the GOE appears to be trying
to address the fishing sector's demands, it must quickly
implement programs to address the fishermen's economic
concerns if it is to avoid the likelihood of protests in
February 2006 when quotas for next year's sea cucumber
season are to be negotiated. End Summary.


2. In September 2005, the fishing sector returned to the
consultative process after 18 months in which their lack of
participation sabotaged the development of sustainable
policies for the islands (reftel A). The hopes prompted by
their return were dashed when fishing sector representatives
walked out of a meeting of the Galapagos Inter-institutional
Management Authority (AIM) on October 31. The walkout was
triggered by developments -- brought to light during the
meeting -- that reinforced their suspicions that the
Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has no interest in
resolving their economic problems.

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3. The meeting's first blow came when the MOE presented a
much discussed 3 million Euro micro-credit program that
would provide funding for fishermen to expand into non-
extractive economic activities. The fishing sector
complained that the MOE originally presented the program as
a donation -- not a loan -- even suggesting that the MOE is
trying to keep some of the money for itself. Financing for
the project is to come from the Italian institution ETIMOS.
Meeting with Econoff and USAID last week, ETIMOS expressed
doubt that a viable market for micro-credit exists in the
Galapagos. If ETIMOS' perspective does not change and the
financing is not provided, fishermen will believe that
either the whole program was a smoke screen to keep them
pacified or that the MOE really did take off with the money.

4. The second blow occurred when the National Fishing
Institute (INP), which was to present a proposal to allow
fishermen to engage in long-line fishing, did not show up to
the meeting. While seeking support for developing non-
fishing alternatives, the fishing sector continues to work
to expand its fishing options. Long-line fishing has been
discussed for over a year as a possibility, but studies that
would precede opening up this activity to fishermen on the
Galapagos have yet to begin. INP's no-show was the final
straw for some fishermen, who now believe that all the talk
surrounding long-line fishing was just that.

5. On both matters, fishing sector leaders have told
Econoff that they believe the MOE is lying to them. They
claim the MOE is disconnected from the Galapagos, leaving
them deeply suspicious of the ministry's motives and with no

6. Fishermen also are edgy as they realize that their
fishing options -- and thus their income -- are drying up.
This year's sea cucumber catch only reached 40% of the
allowable quota. Fishermen acknowledge that sea cucumbers,
which in recent years have accounted for almost 50% of their
income, are on the cusp of commercial extinction in the
Galapagos. Adding to their woes, the current lobster season
is disappointing. Although they believe that the lobster
catch might improve in November and December, economic
prospects within the current fishing regime are diminishing.


7. Many Galapagos observers fear that the fishing sector,
faced with few options, may revert to strikes to influence
Galapagos policies in their favor. Strikes in February and
June of 2004 were successful in increasing sea cucumber
quotas and opening up discussions to legalize new fishing
techniques (reftel B). With that success in mind, fishermen
might return to that strategy.

8. However, fishermen also are wary of legal problems that
come with strikes and protests. Currently, 33 fishermen
still have cases pending against them for their role in the
2004 protests. Fishermen also claim that the judicial
process is biased against them, pointing to two incidents of
illegal fishing that implicated the scientific community and
the tourism sector where no action has been taken by
judicial officials.

9. Coordinating protests is difficult because the fishing
sector is far from united. The three inhabited islands host
four different cooperatives and sometimes within
cooperatives the incentives to strike vary widely between
leadership and members. However, this was also true in 2004
and strikes occurred anyway.


10. While the MOE appears to be trying to assist the
fishing community, few concrete actions result from their
effort. One of the MOE's big plans -- the infusion of
financing through ETIMOS -- may not materialize. Other
large-scale financing, such as the IDB's recent $3 million
grant, is slated for technical assistance and will not fund
investments into productive ventures for the fishermen. What
little is being done to address the fishermen's transition
comes from small-scale, USAID-backed projects. Fishermen
rightly note that while these projects are effective, much
more needs to be done for a fishing sector consisting of
over 900 permitted fishermen. NGO and USAID projects cannot
fill the gap and the MOE appears to lack the political will
and power to implement a successful plan. Many fishermen
are turning to the tourism sector for assistance. The
tourism sector, which has much to lose with new strikes --
they claim they lost some $500,000 during the June 2004
protests -- might find it in their interest to lend a
helping hand.


11. Quotas for next year's sea cucumber season will be
negotiated in February 2006. Because the sea cucumber
population is dwindling, the negotiations will be tense and
could set the stage for protests. Before these negotiations
begin, the fishing sector needs to see positive results from
its involvement in the Galapagos' participatory process if
the likelihood of protests is to diminish. In this effort,
we are exploring new avenues through which to convince other
stakeholders -- namely the tourism sector -- to look beyond
short-term profits and realize that their own interests are
tied to those of the fishing sector.


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