By Carlos Wotzkow

Castro authorizes it, your dollars pay for it while ecologists look the other way. English translation by Robert A. Solera

The problem of exporting Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from Cuba is not new. What happens is that no one, not even the International Convention on Trade on Endangered Species (CITES), wants to talk about it. When some illegality makes itself evident, or when some violation of international conventions points toward Cuba, most ecologists, non government organizations and even the United Nations turn their eyes somewhere else. How do you defend socialist ideas through an ecologist’s tools and criticize the model country of all those eco-guerrillas? Is not Cuba the example of centralized government that the UN wants to impose throughout the world little by little and without us taking notice?

One of the first campaigns against capturing and exploiting Cuban dolphins was begun in Switzerland by an organization called “Working Group for the Protection of Marine Mammals” (ASMS). In 1998, Mrs. Nöelle Delaquis wrote a brave protest letter to the Cuban Ambassador in Bern about the conditions in which they kept some Dolphins in Switzerland captured in the Cuban seas, and that were being exploited in various Dolphinariums without the adequate attention to the law of protection in force in this country (1). Later, the letter was distributed through several travel agencies with the intent of damaging the Cuban tourist industry.

Despite the efforts that year to save those beautiful cetaceans, some of them died in captivity and with their death, the story also died. Only Natumaleza Cubana’s book echoed the incident, as part of a denouncing that also sounded the alert about the frequent killings (using machine-guns) of those mammals south of the Cuban archipelago (2). Afterwards, ASMS and even Mrs. Delaquis, in similar way to other ecological organizations of the world, turned their backs on the Cuban problem and nobody, not even CITES, wanted to get involved in it, much less to ask the Cuban regime about the details of that dirty and cruel business.

Once the United States decided to ban the capture of Dolphins for lucrative purposes, the Cuban government, predator of the environment as no other, took control of the world trade. Since then, the Caribbean nation whom all world environmental organizations congratulate and reward became the world leader in dolphin exportation, followed by Russia and Turkey. It strikes the mind that while the authority of CITES and of Greenpeace in Mexico dedicated themselves to aggressively criticizing Japan and Chile for their captures, those same entities do not say anything about the marine mammal business that Cuba, Spain and Mexico are consolidating.

Since 1989, when I entered the National Aquarium on an almost daily basis to fill my deep-diving tanks to collect specimens for the National Natural History Museum (MNHN), Celia Guevara was already known at the aquarium, sadly, for inoculating Nurse Sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) and dolphins with the aids virus For hours under bright sunlight, both sharks and dolphins, were restrained by several people and martyrized on a concrete table near the edge of the tank while the “eminent veterinarian” took blood samples looking for the desired antibody. According to an assistant, those animals would enable Cuba to discover a vaccine against HIV before the Americans would.

It may seem strange that the National Aquarium of Cuba reports on its own internet page the freeing of only two of the dozens of dolphins that they kept in captivity there (3). But it should not seem strange to us if now we comment on the destiny of all that died there due to the maltreatment that the institution gave them. According to the divers with whom I shared moments of ease in several occasions, the order from the Director Dario Guitart was to take out to deep sea the corpses of dead animals before the facility opened its doors to the public. In another instances, they sent rare specimens that died there to the Department of Taxidermy of the MNHN, but labeled “collected dead in the Northern coast of Havana.”

How many dolphins infected with the HIV virus might have been set free by that Cuban aquarium among individuals of the healthy population of the Caribbean? How is the health of those wild dolphins that may have accepted as new members, dolphins sick with that virus? How many dolphins are really in Cuban waters for the Cuban government to consider them plentiful and allow itself the luxury of exporting them? Why doesn’t National Geographic Magazine and the book Deep Cuba (that has so many nice things to say about the environment in Cuba) mention these barbarian things? Might it be that the foreign ecologists that travel to Cuba are not interested in criticizing the Castro’s environmental policies so not to lose their privileges?

I do not have an adequate answer to the majority of these questions, but rather, I can assure you that the dolphins that I saw in Havana’s National Aquarium had ample areas of their bodies reddish and clearly affected by mycosis. At least one of them showed big scabs in its ventral area and others (crowded in a makeshift artificial pond in the rocks of the coast) showed enormous scars resulting from fights within the species. It is widely known that Fidel Castro’s government does not have any remorse when it is time to make a few bucks by selling our national patrimony. To wit, even the dolphins that Guinea Bissau wanted to sell to Portugal were rapidly offered by Cuba before the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) had time to react (4).

There was a denouncing in dozens of pages on Internet (5) in 1999, of the endless capture of Cuban dolphins bound for Europe. At that time, Spain was already the main client of Cuba after Mexico, and it was followed very closely by France, Germany, and even the island of Malta (6). While England prohibited using dolphins for human entertainment in its territory, the Spaniards were augmenting their supply. If one visits any of the Dolphinariums in Barcelona, Madrid, Palma de Mallorca, Alicante and Tenerife one is brought to tears, not only for the conditions of scarcity where those creatures survived, but for the strong odor of chemical substances that they had to add to the water in an attempt to stabilize its quality.

Of the six aquariums that nowadays exploit more than 50 dolphins in the Iberian Peninsula, 29 were taken out of their natural habitat and the immense majority are Cuban. Among them, the one called “Octopus” in the Playa de las Américas (Tenerife) had four Cuban animals being exploited in very deplorable conditions (5). Another very sad Spanish example of dolphin commerce is that of four Cuban specimens that were exported from Cadaqués (Girona province) to Costa Rica. If the life expectancy of a dolphin is less than 30 years, one has to take into account that those animals not even surpassed one sixth of it, because all were captured in Cuba in 1993 and all died before 1998. (7)

Mexico also does not do anything to impede this thriving business. The recent case of imported dolphins from the Solomon Islands is the proof that Cancun and Cuba have very similar conservation policies. Notwithstanding President Fox’s order to stop the trafficking, Raúl Arriaga (Undersecretary of Gestation for the Environment Protection of Semarnat) and Jorge Soberón (scientific authority of CITES in Mexico), appeared in the news to be most interested that this would not be divulged (8). It is valid to say that article 8.7 of the legal letter in force for Punta Nizuc says: “it is prohibited . . . To introduce exotic species.” (9).

In March 1999 four Cuban dolphins arrived in Acapulco, Mexico. By then, Cuba was receiving a minimum of $50,000 for each dolphin. But the traffic of those mammals was a part of the business that the Cuban state kept with the known narcotrafficker and former Quintana Roo’s governor. Mr. Mario Villanueva, head of the Juárez Cartel (now protected by Castro in Cuba) moved his offices to Cancun and Mexican Joaquín Codwell, moved to Cuba to initiate an enterprise for exporting dolphins in cooperation with the environmental authorities of the island. (10)

Since then, the Cuban counterpart receives $20,000 for each animal shipped Via Mexico, or $50,000 if the company sells them directly to other enterprises or individual buyers. Using this plan, Cuba exported eight dolphins in 1994, seven in 1995, four in 1996, and 13 in 1997, just to Mexico. Nonetheless, to these 32 dolphins exported, one has to add an undetermined number that went to Chile, the four imported by “Paradise” resort in Acapulco in 1999 and another 10 that Mexico re-exported later to Peru. According to the authors of this report (10), the great uncertainty of the data that add up the Cuban dolphins exported might be caused by the imprecise nature of the information provided by the people involved.

The majority of the dolphin exports that Mexico does are really re-exports of cetaceous captured by Cuba. Because there are no norms in our country that regulate the keeping of dolphins in captivity, nor members of the NGO’s willing to denounce the government, nor interest by the environmentalists, that the free world protest any traveling show with dolphins, Cuba enjoys total impunity when exploiting this marine resource. It is valid to clarify that Cuba pays the diver employed by the state the equivalent of 15 dollars per month for capturing dolphins, while she might receive up to $100,000 dollars in Europe for a trained one.

One of the most resounded cases of cruelty that Cuban dolphins suffered is the case of “Meñique”, a specimen that Cuba exported via Mexico to Chile. Lucia Newman, the news reporter known for manipulating what she reports, who is employed by Ted Turner, did not hesitate even a minute in presenting propaganda for Ché Guevara’s daughter who had tortured so many Cuban dolphins at the Aquarium in her biomedical experiments. Nonetheless, the article that CNN aired in 1997 as the true story of Free Willy (11) never had a second sequence in the American news broadcasting company. Meñique died after arriving in Cuba and CNN never revealed that Cuba had been the first country that condemned him to captivity (1995) and that three years later left him to die. (12).

One of the things on which apparently all nature lovers coincide is on the ill treatment that dolphins get from the so-called “specialists” and medical veterinarians. The sinister Cuban veterinarian is not the only case. Veterinarian Victor Rivero Vergara (from Chile) had not even the necessary knowledge to treat Cuban dolphins that he had under his care (10). The same happens yet with German vets, and the ones in Asterix Park in Paris (13).

At the end of 2001 a group of Cuban, Mexican and Spaniard “scientists” rented a luxurious bungalow in the National Park of Punta del Este (Dominican Republic) and promptly attracted attention for their ostentatious and “happy” style of life. They paid local fishermen great amounts of money (up to 2,000 pesos) for capturing dolphins that they wanted to investigate. But when locals took notice, there were no more dolphins in the Canal de la Mona, nor could they be seen from the promontory of the Park. In barely two months, the Cubans, Mexicans and Spaniards made the population of cetaceous flee from nearby places like Bayahíbe, Saona, Miches and Chavón and none of the ecological organizations of the neighboring countries could impede it. (14)

In August 2002, the inhabitants that live near this Natural Park believed that the marine mammals had disappeared from Punta del Este for the disturbances caused by the “investigators”. But soon it was known that Spain and an English national were in this dark business. Even though it is true that dolphins are not an endangered species with peril to become extinct in the Caribbean, it is also fair to say that does not authorize Cuba, Mexico or Spain to exploit a resource inside the national waters of another country and to diminish with it the tourist attraction and the rational and sustainable use that, for example the Dominican Republic practices (15).

It should be considered shameful for all world ecologists for Cuba to hound, capture, and exterminate with nets, firearms, and explosives any marine mammal that gets near its coasts. How is it possible that the UN, while rewarding the Cuban regime for its supposed protection of the environment, has not made even a simple comment? How is it possible that Richard O’Barry, who is tired of running behind Che Guevara’s daughter has not decided to inform the world that in Cuba dolphins are extremely ill attended? While Norway, Austria, Poland, Israel (and even Lula da Silva’s Brazil) close their Dolphinariums, Castro’s Cuba tripled theirs.

It almost seems that for the fate of the world’s dolphins and Cuba’s people maintain a certain analogy. Otherwise, how can we explain that nobody in the world protests seeing Cuban dolphins jumping and acting publicly as clowns and for such miserable dead fish? Is it not the same when we see a whole people to go out into the streets in Havana to protest monthly for a pound of minced Soy meat? Why does the civilized world reject this type of ill paid theatre inside its frontiers, while it accepts them outside them? Why doesn’t the UN apply it’s own Universal Declaration of Animal Rights, Article 4, to Cuban dolphins?

This UN article says: “An animal belonging to a wild species has the right to: (1) Live freely in its own natural habitat. . . and to reproduce themselves” (2). All depravation of freedom, including that with educational purposes, is contrary to this right. In accordance with the competencies established, CITES must, by principle, believe in the declarations that the signing states send to that convention. But on seeing this and other Cuban irregularities (among which must be included the case of the Hawksbill Turtles), what is the sense of keeping on believing in Cuba? Up to where an entity like CITES can accommodate its creed? What is the sense of having Cuba in a convention, if in fact it she is always breaking it?

My friends in some Cuban scientific departments of the Ministry of the Fishing Industry (MIP), Gaviota Corporation and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA) have confirmed to me that while capturing dolphins they are frequently observed hitting their heads against the vessel that has trapped them. I have been told about dolphins that have cut themselves a portion of their tail with their own mouth so to free themselves of the loop that was tying them. Scientists working in the National Aquarium, with dolphins supplied by fisherman working intensively for a pittance, assure me that the fisherman are kept busy because more than half of their dolphins that arrive alive to their destiny are kept for some days in a buoyant state and then they die.

Thanks to regulations and to American authorities that yet observe the trade in and out of Cuba, is that we get to know now that Mr. O’Barry was working in Cuba to save Che Guevara’s image from his daughter’s malignity. (16) Only for that we also know that the British (who take pride in not having Dolphinariums in the United Kingdom) are the ones that promote this dirty business in the Caribbean Sea. It is of significance that the authority of Cuba’s CITES has not said a word and this, although Cuba is the one that exports and mistreats more dolphins (about 86 that may be known, between 1986 and 1999) than any other country in the world.

I still remember as if it were today when Mrs. Nöelle Delaquis told me in 1998 that an authority on dolphins in the United States had assured her that the biggest Dolphinariums in the world would be built in Havana for rehabilitation purposes. Since then, the ASMS, previously involved in the problem, has not denounced Cuba. Might it be that the American ecologist lobbies are the ones that make Cuba untouchable? If that would be the case, could you tell me the address of that Cuban center that puts free dolphins into Nature? Then, I used to think that even Delaquis would have believed the story of the illustrious “gringo”. But a reality check demonstrates that world ecologism is infected by the leftist virus. A virus that blinds even the best willing people.

Cuba has broken international law from the moment at which the Bottlenose Dolphins were placed on the list in Appendix II of CITES, of which Cuba is a signatory. In view of the fact that more than 70% of the dolphins that Cuba has exported have died a miserable death, and that CITES demands strict regulation so to avoid their utilization in a way incompatible their survival, it is obvious that Castro’s government breaks the laws that himself promised to enforce in the international world arena. Moreover, the legislation that CITES puts in force in Europe clearly states the prohibition of importing dolphins with a primary commercial goal. It is insulting that for Mr. O’Barry the most important thing is to save Che’s image and of his playful daughter.

Cuba contributes to breaking the European laws from the moment it exports a species listed in Annex A of the UE Council Regulation 338/97, which prohibits all commerce with dolphins inside Europe. CITES and the EU establish that: “trade is allowed . . . only when it has been found that it will not be detrimental to the survival of the species. Although it is true that Cuba can state that the dolphin population is not in danger with these exports, it is also a moral obligation for CITES and for Europe to demand of Cuba the results of a dynamic population study that evidently has never been done.

Cuba violates the regional law in the Caribbean since the dolphin species is on the list of Appendix II of the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) of which Castro’s government is a signatory. From 1986 to 1999 Cuba has exported at least 86 dolphins and the WDCS assures that it has reason to believe that the market of individuals captured directly from natural habitats has continued notwithstanding that the protocol of SPAW was put in force in the year 2000 (17). What is contradictory here is that when I addressed these organizations looking for an update to fight the problem from its roots (that is, attacking Cuban policy) all conversations got cold.

Cuba violates its own conservationist laws of nature protection. Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA) has as a duty (among a lot of other things) to support the development of tourism” (18). It is the first time in Cuban history that a ministry in charge of preserving nature has among its duties and obligations to guarantee that the exploitation of its natural resources does not to put in danger the economic interests of the state. It seems absurd, but an analysis of the “environmental licenses” granted in Cuba since the new law went public (19) has simply been to give authorization to all foreign enterprises to locate themselves in areas that had been declared “protected” and now are “protected areas for multiple uses.” That Cuba disregards the environment is clearer than the transparent Caribbean waters.


1.- Foundation for the Animal in Law 2001. Dolphinariums in Europe from the animal protection law viewpoint taking into account the legal situation in Switzerland in particular. Zurich, Switzerland. Dec. 19th. 32 pp.

2.- Wotzkow, Carlos 1998. Natumaleza Cubana, Ediciones Universal, Miami. USA 294 pp.

3.- Acuario Nacional de Cuba. Who are we? 3 pp.

4.- Born Free Foundation 2001. Applications to import wild caught dolphins to Portugal are in breach of International Regulations. Animal welfare and conservationist organizations demand refusal of import permissions. 2 pp.

5.- Wotzkow, Carlos 1999. “Nueva ley del medio ambiente, ecosistemas cubanos, e inversores extranjeros. Fundación Argentina de Ecología Científica. 7 pp.

6.- WDCS 2003. Malta imports dolphins from Cuba. The Malta Independent Daily Website. Sept. 13. 2 pp.

7.- WDCS 2003. Spain. Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. 6 pp.

8.- Margaux Dodds 2003. Urgent Press Release: four Dolphins already dead in Solomon Islands Capture. Marine Connection Caring for Dolphins and Whales. 3 pp.

9.- Greenpeace Mexico 2003. Autoridad ambiental fue informada de las irregularidades y aún así importó los delfines. Boletín 354. 2 pp.

10.- Castelló, Hugo, Yolanda Alaniz y Cecilia Vega 2000. Dolphinariums and Swimming Programs with dolphins in México. A critical report. Document in PDF. 34 pp.

11. - Newman, Lucia 1997 Free Willy was a movie, Meñique is real. CNN Interactive, April 16, 1997.

12. - Wildlife Rescue of Dade County 1998. Meñique. J. D. Van der Toorn. Cetacean releases. 6 pp.

13.- Marchal, Julien 1997. Dolphins in Asterix Park, Paris, France. Captivity Conditions in Parc Asterix. 3pp.

14.- D’Leon, Nexcy 2001. Delfines pico de botella se fueron de las aguas del Parque del Este. Listín Diario. Edición Digital. 3pp.

15.- Bonelly de Claventi, Ideliza y Ivelisse de Porcella 2001. Frente al uso de delfines en cautiverio en el Parque Acuático, Cofresí, Puerto Plata. Medioambiente. Perspectiva Ciudadana, Noviembre 2001. 4 pp.

16.- Jordan, Sandra 2002. “US join fight for dolphin freedom”. Guardian Unlimited, February 24, 5 pp.

17. - Born Free Foundation, No permission for dolphin capture. 2 pp.

18.- Google 2003. This Internet search engine returns, under the words “Cuba” + “Delfines”, more than 100 advertisements for shows with dolphins in Cuba. These are promoted by several travel agencies from Cuba, Germany, France, Spain, England and Mexico.

19.- Asamblea del Poder Popular 1997. Ley N° 81 del Medio Ambiente. Gaceta Oficial de la República de Cuba. Extraordinaria. Viernes 11 de julio de 1997. Año XCV, pp 47-68. Bienne, Switzerland
November, 2003

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