Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.

Troubled Hope: On Animal Rights in Cuba

Yenisel Rodríguez Pérez

Feeding the pigeons. Photo: Juan Suarez.

HAVANA TIMES – I recall how, back in primary school, we used to shower white herons with rocks while heading back home from school. Poor things, they’ve never been anything but “worthless” to common people in Cuba.

I also remember the death-squads made up of little boys and girls from my block. They took the whole thing very seriously.

They took to the street with a mental inventory of potential victims: reptiles, insects, mammals, plants and even someone’s younger brother. A child guerrilla at war with nature. What were the adults doing in the meantime?

Well, they were preparing snacks and telling the kids to do their homework, indifferent to the “bio-technology lab” the little ones had set up in front of their homes.

Then, there’s the question as to the media, schools, NGOs and other social institutions that deal with the issue. Very little of what these institutions do actually reach primary schoolers.

Speeches alone do not change people’s behavior. Rather, they tend to define positions and give what people have already defined in their imaginaries a name or a path to follow. Sensitivity towards animal life usually exists prior to receiving an educational message about this, and such empathy towards animals is painfully missing in Cuba.

The point of departure must be the individual’s life-world. Society must take part in this, but it must do so from the daily life of people, from the notions these people have of their surroundings.

Much is said about progress made by First World countries in the area of animal protection, but it all basically boils down to obeying the law.

The point is that fulfilling the law does not necessarily entail any sense of the dignity of animals, a central tenet of ecological thinking. It rather works as a preventive measure or expresses the fear of being punished by the authorities.

This isn’t to say that an animal protection law wouldn’t help make the situation of animal rights on the island less precarious, but it wouldn’t be a solution to the problem, particularly when we bear in mind that any implementation of such norms would leave a lot to be desired in terms of the efficiency of control mechanisms.

Something needs to be set in motion in our country; we must start somewhere – by supporting the work that animal protection organizations (such as ANIPLANT) have been doing for quite some time, for instance.

We shouldn’t continue to accept violence against animals by people of any age.

We must put an end to those terrible scenes of extreme violence, and we must also eliminate this other form of concealed violence, such as those armies of children who attack pigeons at parks and squares with the consent of adults.

If these are the boys and girls who represent the world’s hope, then we can only hope for a future world that is profoundly cruel towards animal life. Let us then pray for the white herons.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    The plight of so many animals is Cuba is very disturbing. We speak colloquially of “a dog’s life” and Cuba justifies that use as describing an awful existence. But it is difficult to criticise Cubans for the failure to look after their animals properly when so many of them have problems sustaining their families . How can the individual animal be of concern when people themselves are but part of the collective mass not individual?
    Cuba also inherits the cultural practices of Spain, where the Inquisition tortured human beings and where even today bulls are tortured to death in the ring for entertainment, large barbed arrows being stuck in their neck muscles to reduce their ability to fight their exotically clad torturers, prior to eventually being despatched to the cheers of the audience. Cock fighting is still practised and the Castro family regime chooses to ignore it – after all it is not their blood that is being shed and it satisfies a lust – better a chicken looses its life than one of their own.
    The much promoted educational system in Cuba has as one of its tenets the installation of “respect” in the children from an early age – age 2 and upwards. Not respect for animals and society at large, but respect for authority. It is that authority which controls and all authority starts from the Castro family regime and the Communist Party of Cuba.

  • Kamran Nayeri

    Thank you Yenisel for this article. I respectfully believe Carlyle has it backwards–historically at least. Human mistreatment of other animals (for we are ourselves great apes, let’s not forget) began with the Agricultural Revolution some 10,000 years ago. Before that humans lived as hunter-gatherer bands and their attitude towards nature was animistic–they believed other beings also had spirits. They did not differentiate themselves from other animals. Their world view was ecocentric (ecological centrism). The rise of farming required a new, different world view that justified domestication of plants and other animals. This world view is called anthropocentrism (human-centered world view, one that believes in human superiority). This view was enshrined in Great religions–witness the Book of Genesis according to which God created Man in his own image and other animals for Him (The doctrine of the dignity of Man). Even Humanism that arose in Italy in the second half of the 14th century maintained the doctrine of dignity of Man while dethroning God and putting Man in his place. Thus, anthropocentrism is the source of human alienation from the rest of nature and our maligned attitude towards other animals. What Yenisel describes I too experienced as a child except in Iran where I was born and with animals native to that land.

    While Carlyle is correct in much of what he says he has it backwards in a crucial underlaying sense that alienation from nature and subordination, domestication and exploitation of other species paved the way for social stratification, subordination, oppression and exploitation of humans by other humans–that is the rise of class societies. These gave rise based on economic surplus made possible by exploitation of other species and other humans (e.g., slaves) made possible various civilizations.

    Thus, to overcome what Carlyle correctly objects to he may not be aware that subordination and exploitation of humans by other humans we must also reclaim our ecocentric world views human held for 95% of our existence as Homo sapiens. Thus, the ideals of a socialist society where human alienation, subordination and exploitation will end must also involve an ecocentric cultural revolution. This combination is called Ecological Socialism. Increasing number of radicalized youth around the world are coming to this perspective and I know this true also of some Cubans.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Socialism will always claim to be all things to all men – hence “Ecological Socialism”. Mr. Goodrich will doubtless correct you by explaining that in Cuba it is State Capital Ecological Programs.
      Far more youth are being radicalized by IS than by Ecological Socialism.
      Encouraging good agricultural land in Cuba to revert to bush is I suppose an indication of the ecological concerns of the Castro family regime – feeding homo sapiens is of secondary concern.

  • AnimalProtector

    Yenisel, do you have an email address? Someone who doesn’t have access to the internet wants to send you a message. He can reach you if you have an email address. Thanks!

  • AnimalProtector

    Do you have a phone number where you can be reached?