Dolphins Swim Down the Streets of Cancun

In a reprise of our launch of hundreds of sea turtle impersonators during the aborted 1999 Seattle meeting of the WTO, AWI created foam dolphin costumes for the recent WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico. Like the turtles, the dolphins have become a symbol of the sovereign right of countries to establish laws that protect wildlife. With few exceptions, the WTO has held that member states cannot embargo a product based on how it is obtained or produced, deeming illegal such laws as the International Dolphin Conservation Act, which forbids the importation of tuna caught by setting nets around dolphins.

Working closely with our Mexican colleagues of the Grupo Ecologica del Mayab, AWI dolphins marched several times. The first march was one of the most peculiar demonstrations on behalf of wildlife ever staged, with Mayan priestesses wearing our foam dolphins on their heads while conducting ancient rituals of reverence for the earth and her creatures. The ceremony was translated into Mayan, English, Spanish, and Aztec languages. Then, more than 200 people proceeded to march as dolphins around downtown Cancun. Speakers addressed WTO delegates, demanding that any international trading system incorporate protections of wildlife and their habitat.

Then, there was the Camposino march with ten thousand poor, rural farmers who had come from all parts of Mexico. WTO policies have been disastrous for farmers worldwide, lifting tariff protections and forcing direct competition with heavily subsidized agri-businesses in the U.S., European Union, and Japan. Many have lost farms that have been in their families for generations. The march was tragically overshadowed by the suicide of a Korean farmer and insistence of a few dozen anarchists in storming police barricades.

Even though local police and security measures deterred dolphin impersonators from gaining constant access to the convention center area, on September 12 we made our way there. Like the turtles in Seattle, the dolphins prompted smiles among dozens of sympathetic delegates and passersby, enabling AWI staff to pass out literature and ask for support in the negotiations. One exception was a British delegate who huffed, "Why don't you go back to the sea where you came from?"

Whether sea turtles or dolphins, or whatever the future costume may be, the use of props has enabled AWI to connect with local citizens and peacefully educate countless individuals on the need for animal protection and the need to include animal welfare in international trade agreements.

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