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From 29 August 2004 Issue

Justice At Last

Miami Herald
Sat, Aug. 28, 2004
CUBA | TRADE EMBARGO
Doctor fined $70,000 for buying Cuban dolphins

An American physician is facing a $70,000 fine after buying dolphins from Cuba for exhibition in aquatic parks in the Caribbean.

BY CHARLES D. SHERMAN
Special to the Herald

An American physician who bought wild dolphins from Cuba for aquatic parks in the Caribbean is facing a $70,000 fine by the U.S. Treasury Department for violating the trade embargo against the communist nation.

''I've admitted the thing to the government and am paying a settlement.'' Dr. Graham Simpson, now living in Reno, Nev., said this week. He said he was ''negotiating a fine of up to $70,000'' but declined to comment further.

The Herald first reported in February 2002 that Simpson, a naturalized U.S. citizen from South Africa, was under federal investigation for buying six Cuban dolphins for water parks he owned in the Caribbean islands of Anguilla and Antigua.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

In an interview at the time, Simpson said he paid a broker in the Dominican Republic for the animals but acknowledged they had come from Cuba and that he had visited officials at Havana's national aquarium.

He said he traveled to Cuba on a British passport and paid $45,000 each for the dolphins.

The Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control, which enforces the embargo, refused comment on the case, citing privacy concerns.

Simpson, 53, has long been the target of a campaign by animal rights activists in the United States and Canada. Cuba is the world's largest exporter of wild dolphins, according to the United Nations, and the animal rights activists have grasped the U.S. embargo as a tool to crimp the trade.

The dolphins that Simpson bought were put to work in high-end resort destinations in the Leeward islands east of Puerto Rico.

Two years ago, when asked about having possibly violated the trade embargo, Simpson said: ``I thought of myself as a British citizen living for the last three years in Anguilla, which has no law against buying from Cuba. It really didn't occur to me this might be a problem.''

Dolphin defenders have focused on the Simpson case to highlight the dangers they see in the exploitation of the marine mammals. One of the leaders in the effort to bring Simpson to account is Gwen McKenna, a 50-year-old Toronto housewife.

''This substantial fine handed down to Simpson brings to an end years of hard work, gathering information and providing it to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and pressuring them directly and through the media to prosecute Americans purchasing Cuban dolphins,'' McKenna said.

``But Simpson is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a number of other Americans hiding behind foreign corporate veils who have purchased large numbers of Cuban dolphins.''

`FINE IS A GOOD THING'

Ric O'Barry of Miami, a former Miami Seaquarium Flipper trainer who several years ago began trying to find ways to return dolphins to the wild, is now a consultant for One Voice, an animal protection society based in France.

He, McKenna and several activists on Anguilla and Antigua have worked closely together in the campaign against Simpson. ''The fine is a good thing,'' O'Barry said.

''The real value is that it will send a message to the other U.S. citizens that are doing business with Cuba,'' he said.

A number of aspects of the dolphin business anger animal rights activists. They say dolphin hunters chase the creatures to the point of exhaustion before using nets in violent captures that can severely injure or even drown the animal.

Beyond what they see as the immorality in the removal of individual dolphins from their pods, or families, the activists say the animals face food deprivation during their training and confinement sometimes in tanks not much larger than a public swimming pool.

Simpson and other aquatic park owners counter these arguments by saying they provide a valuable service for customers who want to play with the animals and learn more about them.

At many dolphin encounter parks, including Miami's Seaquarium, customers can pay upwards of $150 for a half hour in a pool with dolphins. Park owners say they include educational information about dolphins as part of the experience.

Cuba and Russia, according to U.N. studies, are the world's leading exporters of dolphins.

The countries are immune to publicity campaigns against the trade, and a healthy, young dolphin can fetch between $40,000 and $70,000 on the international market.

MAJOR SUPPLIER

In the past decade, Cuba has supplied more than 100 dolphins to burgeoning swim parks in the Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America, according to U.N. figures.

Earlier this year, Simpson and his wife sold their business on Anguilla to Dolphin Discovery of Cancun, a company run by several Americans with six bases of operation across the Caribbean.

According to the latest U.N. figures, Cuba has supplied 33 of the animals to Dolphin Discovery. Animal rights activists have raised the case with the Treasury.

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