Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. V No. 2 April 1996


by Kate O'Connell, CSI Board

In an earlier edition of "Whales Alive!", we asked for your help in trying to stop Mexican government approval of a plan that would allow the Exportadora de Sal (ESSA) corporation from enlarging a salt works project in the San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California, a critical breeding habitat for gray whales. Thanks (gracias) to all of those who did write (both in English and in Spanish) to the Mexican embassy in DC.

According to Grupo de los Cien, the Mexican environmental organization leading the effort to block the salt company's proposal, the issue has yet to be resolved - and it has taken some interesting twists. On February 29, 1996, the National Ecological Institute convened a public hearing on the subject in La Paz, Baja California Sur. The meeting was announced at virtually the last minute, and with no consultation with environmental groups such as Group of 100.

In spite of this apparent attempt to keep the public at large from commenting on the $120 million salt work expansion, however, a former director of ESSA, Fernando Guzman Lazo, came forth publicly to declare that the project would be both unnecessary and in violation of current Mexican law. And as for the Environmental Impact Assessments that ESSA must submit on the proposed construction, Guzman Lazo said that they are "superfluous and costly technical exercises".

At last year's meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), it was agreed that the Chair of the Scientific Committee (Dr. Steve Reilly), would work with the Mexican government to organize a committee of scientific experts to address the issue of potential harm to the gray whales and their habitat. While the committee - among whose members are such cetacean experts as Steve Reilly, Bruce Mate, Victor Marin and Steve Swartz - has had its first meeting, the role of the independent peer review group has not been determined, nor has the Mexican environmental community been kept abreast of their activities.

Grupo de los Cien continues to press the Mexican government to keep the oversight of the ESSA project as transparent and open to public comment as possible. But new information coming to light has led to the questioning of government motives in the process. As we noted in our earlier article, the ESSA Baja salt works is a joint venture between the Mexican government and Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan. Guzman Lazo, in his attacks on the new construction proposed, raised the specter of a possible third party with interests in weakening the environmental protection of the lagoons. Homero Aridjis, president of Grupo de los Cien, has questioned the participation of Raul Salinas in the project. Raul Salinas is the brother of former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, during whose tenure the ESSA expansion was first proposed.

It is clear that economic and political pressures to weaken protection for the gray whales and their habitat are fierce. Now, more than ever, we need to voice our opposition to the ESSA project. As before, we ask you to contact the Mexican Ambassador to the United States, and to ask that the proposal be denied, once and for all.

Please contact: Ambassador Jorge Montaño, 1911 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006. Fax: 202-728-1698

Go to next article: Students Work to Free Corky or: Table of Contents.

© Copyright 1996, Cetacean Society International, Inc.

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