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DESPERATE LETTERS

by HOMERO ARIDJIS

from REFORMA, Sunday, March 17, 2002

Sending a letter to a public official in Mexico is like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean. One does not expect to receive a reply, nor even a receipt of acknowledgement from the obscure bureaucrat who receives the letter at the gatehouse and throws it into some miserable cabinet or waste paper basket. These desperate letters are not uncommon in a country where the clamor of the citizenry is barely listened to by the pyramid of political power, or, let's say, the rotating potentates, the ministers, the private secretaries and the secretaries of the private secretaries. In a country where the population has to tighten its belt, materially and philosophically, where do so many bosses and petty functionaries come from, and why do these people have so little vocation for service? A few weeks ago when I called an official of this superdemocratic government that replaced the previous antidemocratic government, I was told that he was in a meeting - sound familiar? - and the only person available was the private secretary. But then another voice asked me my business, since the private secretary was in a meeting. I explained it to her and she then told me I would have to explain that to the secretary of the private secretary who was in a meeting. I asked her for a direct number. "Ah! That is not possible," she answered. "I have orders not to give it to anybody; it's private." "I'm not asking for her personal number, I have no personal business with her, I'm speaking to a government office," I said. At that moment she hung up, and now regards me as impertinent. Those people sooner or later will leave the government without having understood that we pay them to serve the public and not to serve themselves.

Now I'm going to quote two letters, one addressed to the "garlic king" (this refers to Javier Usabiaga who, besides being Minister of Agriculture, is an agribusiness magnate) and the other to Pope John Paul 11, who having canonized Juan Diego, we now ask to do something for the so-called grandmother of life, since, as reported March 13 in Los Angeles by Wildcoast and the Group of 100, 35,000 marine turtles at risk of extinction, are sacrificed every year on the coasts of Baja California. With Holy Week comes the time of greatest danger for the marine turtle, which is eaten in wealthy households during the period of abstinence because, since eating meat is forbidden, the turtle is mistakenly considered to be "fish". For this reason the Turtle Group of the Californias, a coalition of fishermen, ecological groups and researchers, has asked the Vatican to publish an official letter in which the Pope declares that the turtle is "meat" and not "fish". If the Pope were to prohibit the consumption of turtle meat, thousands of turtles would be saved.

LETTER TO THE POPE CONCERNING OUR SISTER THE MARINE TURTLE. "Your Holiness: Thousands of the marine turtles that swim to the coasts of the Californias will be eaten during Holy Week in Southern California and in Mexico - even though the use and consumption of this endangered species has been banned for more than a decade.

"The tradition of serving the marine turtle during Holy Week comes from the restriction on eating meat during the period of abstinence. Because the turtle swims many consumers of these animals believe they are eating "Fish".

With this letter we request that you state in an official declaration that turtles are "meat" and that their consumption is not permitted during this religious period. At the same time, we beg you to instruct the members of the Catholic Church (Apostolic and Roman), and all the Catholic churches and communities in Mexico and Latin America to abstain from eating turtle meat.

"If the tradition of eating marine turtles as a celebration of these days is abolished, thousands of turtles will be spared, since it is estimated that around 35,000 of these animals are going to die in the Californias this year - the greatest mortality of these species in the world.

"The Turtle Group of the Californias is an organization formed by Catholic fishermen and their families, who earn their living from the fruits of the sea in communities of Baja California, Mexico. Ending the consumption of these magnificent animals will assist in our efforts to preserve the marine turtle, as well as our communities and their way of life.

"We thank you for your attention to our letter and hope to learn of your opinion in this important ecological and social matter.

Faithful and obedient servants of Your Holiness.

Javier Villavicencios, Aaron Quintanar, Adan Hernandez."

LETTER CONCERNING OUR BROTHERS THE BILLFISH to Licenciado Javier Usabiaga Arroyo, Minister of Agriculture, Cattle and Fisheries. Dear Minister: In Manzanillo and Acapulco, the coastal towns along the South Pacific coast likewise, there is widespread complaint about the enormous pillaging, both past and present, of sailfish, marlin and other billfish, the fishing of which with longlines is also taking species such as the marine turtle, which are on the Protected Species list and in danger of extinction.

"In the Sea of Cortez, in Sinaloa as well as San Carlos, Guayamas, the authorities of SAGAPA (ConaPesca) and PROFEPA were able to verify the extent to which has been permitted and tolerated, without any control, an enormous fleet of pangas with lines of up to 5km. in length, which apart from obstructing in-shore navegation, indiscriminately capture turtles and dorado, which allows for the open flourishing of a business in these and other species that are forbidden, and the seals and sea lions that have traditionally been a tourist attraction and are now being decimated with no notice being taken. And every day on the beaches of Northeast Mexico these sea mammals appear, drowned in these "death nets".

During a seminar in San Lucas, organized by the Tourist Board of Baja California, "there was a report of a whale struggling to survive after being trapped in a gill net for days. Fortunately, at great cost and risk to the divers who got themselves involved, we were able to rescue that whale and get it back offshore. And this happened barely 2 km. From Cabo San Lucas. These nets, which are unselective and extremely predatory, which are strewn along our coasts, are now forbidden by most fishing countries bordering adjoin Mexico.

 

"We are extremely concerned, since in spite of our opinions that are supported by complaints and scientific testimony, the permits and sureptitious fishing continue with the acquiescence of inspectors and fishing authorities.............we are beginning to feel the effects of a new excessive, out of control exploitation, attacking not only species reserved for sport fishing, but also marine mammals that, like the whales, are prey to gill nets all along the Pacific coast, or the marine turtle whose capture is forbidden internationally. Foundation for the Conservation of Billfish A.C."

Let us hope that the political and ecclesiastical authorities appealed to can hear these voices that write not to beg for personal favors, but to defend the environment. Let us also hope that those authorities can establish a bridge between Holy Week, which commemorates the death of Jesus, and Earth Day, which celebrates Life.


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