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Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

Cuba’s Media Promotes Cockfighting

December 5, 2011 |

Isbel Diaz Torres

Roosters’ feathers are removed from their legs. Photo: http://www.absolut-cuba.com

HAVANA TIMES, Dic 5 — The always interesting television program Como me lo contaron (The way I heard It), discussed the hot topic of cockfighting last week. Although this lucrative business is promoted by the Cuban state — which exports about 700 fighting birds annually — government involvement in this abusive practice was not the focus of the program.

In my view, this was another attempt to legitimize the violent practice.

Reviewing additional coverage in the Cuban press, I found several articles that defend this “sport” tooth and nail.

As almost always happens, their search for legitimacy requires finding a link between the glorious history of the island and whatever the theme in question. They managed to find several with cock fighting.

Historian Ciro Bianchi, who is interviewed each week on Como me lo contaron, reported that in 1956, Cuba had 500 cock fighting rings.

In addition, Bianchi recalled that the emblem of the Liberal Party carried the image of a “regal rooster” on a plow, and political figures such as Jose Miguel Gomez and Carlos Mendieta (both were presidents) were cock breeders and fighters (it seems he forgot to mention that the tyrant Fulgencio Batista was one as well).

Bianchi displayed his admiration for President Mendieta when he described how the former president once climbed on a stool in cock fighting ring while holding up his “killer bird” and shouting “Viva Cuba Libre! Viva Cuba Libre!”

For the journalist Lisanka Gonzalez of Granma International, “Cockfighting is one of the few activities that some peoples continue to practice from time immemorial as bastions of traditional culture,” according to an article from 2004.

“[Our nation’s] declaration of freedom and independence was delivered in a cock fighting ring on February 24, 1895 in the city of Bayamo, in the eastern part of the island, to a group of Cuban patriots who in this way initiated the War of Independence,” proudly illustrated Ramon R. Corona in the Pinar del Rio newspaper El Guerrillero.

I’m always suspicious when they start to invoke the “homeland,” “Cuban identity,” “bastions of traditional culture” and “declarations of independence.” There’s usually some manipulation behind all that, some reactionary idea they want to impose.

Historically, the issue of cockfighting has been used with subtlety and hypocrisy by politicians in office who either approved or prohibited the activity depending on the popular support it held at any given time.

On the television program, Bianchi explained how at the end of the War of Independence in 1898, a group of patriots (including Maximo Gomez, Manuel Sanguily and other political and culture figures) asked the US governor of the island to prohibit bullfighting and cockfighting.

Dominican-born Maximo Gomez believed, “This bloody spectacle was alien to modern culture.” Yet to Bianchi, for “a man who had seen so much war and so much blood, to display that reaction…” this was somewhat difficult to understand. Apparently the manhood of the Mambi leader should have distanced him from any show of feelings or a sense of decency.

It was the government of Jose Miguel Gomez that approved the law in support of cock fighting. The single dissenting vote was cast by Manuel Sanguily, who regarded such practices as contrary to the moral health of the people.

However, with the support of the corrupt politicians of the day, this business thrived. With the “advent of the free and independent republic,” as it was referred to in El Guerrillero (though I was always taught that these were puppet governments), some people were enriched by the heavy gambling involved, while many other families went broke.

The revolution closes the ring

The 1968 advance of the “revolutionary offensive” closed down all small private businesses, including cock fighting. Given its immorality, far from any sense of respect for animals, “revolutionary” banning was imposed against that “bastion of traditional culture,” according to the Granma article.

“Fighting birds were on the verge of disappearing, however the foresight of an authority, Guillermo Garcia Frias, plus the support of Celia Sanchez, stopped the threat that loomed over them,” according to Lisanka Gonzalez’s explanation of the return of the abusive practice.

Commander Guillermo Garcia Frias established the first state-run gamecock hatchery and in the mid-80’s the government decriminalized the fights. Strict regulations allowed the continuation of cock fighting under the control of the “Flora and Fauna Agency” (Spanish: Empresa de Flora y Fauna), though gambling was prohibited.

In other words, one can now kill roosters for human enjoyment freely and legally, but of course under the strict government control. Independent fight organizers and participants are usually fined between 1,500 and 3,000 pesos if they are caught at independent rings, with or without betting.

However, a good bird is valued at between 2,000 and 4,000 pesos in the informal national market.

The Finca Alcona, in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, is the largest breeder of fighting cocks in Cuba. Here they are prepared, trained and selected before being exported.

That center belongs to the “Flora and Fauna Agency,” which — instead of protecting the fowl — exports them at prices that can reach the shocking figure of $1,000 for a prize roosters and $150 for a common rooster. Some of the exported birds are ones seized in raids of illegal rings.

In justification of all of this, the El Guerrillero newspaper argued, “The cock is an animal that is essentially insensitive and very primitive. Its temperature is above 40º C, which minimizes its ability to experience pain. That threshold is much higher than that of humans, and therefore wounds are easily tolerated. Let’s say they can handle them much better than humans can.”

“They are aggressive by nature, since they fight each other in the wild and even in domestic conditions. This is their reason for being. Therefore humans, far from exploiting the situation, are merely channeling this energy to balance it and to humanize it through a variety measures and regulations. Fighting would inevitably occur in one place or another as an imperative of nature.”

Is it possible to write anything more cynical? Almost all animals fight (humans more than any other), but most simply do this to demonstrate their strength in a kind of “performance attack.”

Many do it to mark their territory, to obtain a mate, to defend prey or in a mode of training to defend themselves against predators. Rarely do these experiences result in the death of an opponent of the same species.

Only twisted minds like those of some humans are able to gloat and enjoy the pain, forcing the birds to fight to the death. Many times they even put spikes or steel spurs on the birds’ legs to make the show bloodier.

In the El Guerrillero article, the author calls those people “extremists” who hold critical views against these cruel practices.

Granma, in turn, sought to legitimize cockfighting through science. It cited a group of researchers from the province of Pinar del Rio who were also “amateur cock fighters.”

These “scientists” concluded that such practices have constituted “a tradition of the Cuban people imposed by our collective will for centuries, one that has not changed its internal motion despite social-historical changes that have taken place over several centuries.”

I’m from Pinar del Rio and I know my people’s passion for cock fighting – and for the money it produces. The practice of torturing animals is of course present in our culture. But why must we promote it and even profit from it? Wouldn’t it be better to educate people to have respect for other living beings that are sharing our stay on this planet?

I’m not even a vegetarian. I approve the consumption of animal for foods as a part of our culture and for the natural recycling of elements. But this doesn’t justify killing for the pleasure of witnessing it or to relieve our boredom.

According to Article 27 of the Cuban Constitution, “The state protects the environment and the natural resources of the country.” But what can be done if leaders, businesspeople, military personnel and others who make up the Cuban political-bourgeoisie are regular participants in both government and illegally-run cock fights?

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  • Jim Demoruelle

    You write such a brilliant line to be so “menso” about cockfighting. First Mr. Torres, the act of cockfighting is not cruel, in my opinion, the concept of being cruel is an opinion that is not proven by behavior or science as far as cockfighting is concerned. Please do not let my opinion on this matter concern you as it is not possible for anyone to know or understand everything about everything.

    When I set my gamecock down in front of another, the birds choose to fight or not fight, a bird that chooses to not fight cannot be made to fight. That is the way of nature. What is dressed in bright feather is not always brilliant. The same can be said of poets with an excellent education and intelligence, if your rhyme is not in time, you may not be a poet, and not know it…..

    Oh, the picture of the trimmed cock that accompanied your story, the trim is to keep the bird from becoming over heated during the fight. Heat is the enemy of the chicken, a strange thing, as most of the birds from around the world that became domesticated were from very hot tropical areas. Being concerned that a bird does not become overheated and that he is trimmed to compensate for that eventuality, I believe, is an act of kindness not cruelty.

    Cockfighting has a 4000-year written history and I feel that the history goes far beyond that. The gamecock development must have been a very long process before it came to the written history as a full working model. Through the whole time of its existence, we find the parallel history of distracters of cockfighting that mirrors your writing. We must have some psychological symbiotic relationship. I feel that cockfighting is as important to the human psyche as any of the arts, in fact, cockfighting and the ballet have much in common. Only in cockfighting the swan is taken home for the next meal that may be eaten next to the lake.

    Your concern that politicians may use cockfighting to identify with the citizen and use this topic in an attempt to bond with the cockfighter may be valid. Politicians have a long history of non-originality and need to be watched. Your question about what can be done to change attitude about cockfighting if the Cuban political-bourgeoisie find value in the, cockfighter-politician relationship, perhaps we need to look at why you need to change cockfighting. Each day I pray the Serenity Prayer, God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I can not change, the Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdome to know the difference. I can change me but I will suffer greatly trying to change you Mr Torres. Seventy one years has taught me that we have too many moving parts in society to change people not even slavery nor totalitarian government can do so. To agree to disagree makes for a more comfortable solution to most antagonistic relationships.

    I own Cuban Cocks that came from Dominican friends and some that were brought to Florida by boat; these Cuban birds are very fierce and blend well with the American game birds. Come to think about it, so do our people… I wish you well.

    jimdem

    • Dear Jim Demoruell,

      You said “the birds choose to fight or not.” Therefore you assume that those animals have a level of consciousness high enough to decide such things, though this has not been scientifically proven to be the case.

      If indeed there was such a “natural” tendency to fight to the death, then it wouldn’t be necessary to train the birds. Nor would it be necessary to confine them in a ring to prevent them from escaping.

      In nature, this type of fighting is avoided by animals. If does occur, as soon as one of the beings demonstrates their superiority, the other one withdraws. Do your cockfights allow the retreat of the bird that doesn’t want to fight? How could any of you know such a thing?

      I thank you for your comment, but I have to repeat that this is one of the cruelest things that can be done to a living being. Hopefully in your prayers, your God will give you the wisdom to discern what’s cruel and what’s not.

  • sonia

    Isbel,

    They are not put in a ring to prevent escaping, but to keep it in a controlled environment. Imagine a crowd of spectators moving with the birds, not a practical way of doing things. Gamecocks are not “Trained” but conditioned. Imagine all the things an athlete does to prepare for a fight/game. As for fighting in the wild or in an uncontrolled (by humans) atmosphere, these birds will and can fight to the death. They are territorial by nature and One rooster will fight to defend his territory and his hens. You don’t need to be in the wild to witness this, just simply let them run loose. Get some first hand experience on the sport and the gamecocks before you publish articles of something you clearly know nothing about.

  • Dan

    I would rather be a spoiled gallo fino en Cuba, then a Tyson battery broiler in the USA.