A Non-existent Political Will

By Giordan Rodríguez Milanés

At the gym you burn energy, you sweat, and you laugh at the remarks of the two or three typical funny guys who get Messi fans and Cristiano fans arguing. We heard the commotion down at the street corner, in front of a family doctor’s office. The contending dogs weren’t even growling; they glared at each other, ready to tear the opponent apart. One of them is brown; the other one is black, with a white streak on the neck. At the corner, the space was delimited by a few dozen people of all ages. Some were encouraging the fight and having fun with the rage and the pain of the dogs, and some muttered their distaste.

‘They should lock the owners in a cage with a rabid mastiff’, a medical student commented.

That afternoon, three years ago, I noticed the owner of one of the fighting dogs. A young man of about 25, with whom I’d talked several times at that very gym. He was a very respectful young man, who had always addressed me politely. He once told me about his drama during the military service, and I didn’t get the impression then that he could be involved in these dogfights. It looked like his dog was the black one with the white streak, which was now howling as the other one bit it. The young man pulled its leg while the opponent’s owners tried to pry open the victor’s jaw, until they got them loose.

An old man passes by: ‘I once called the police, and they said they’d come right away, but they never showed up’, he whispers as if apologizing to himself. ‘Old man, you should’ve told them it was a cow-fight and they would’ve sent the Special Brigade’, the winning dog’s owner scoffs as he walks away. Now, in the 62nd year of the Revolution that would make us better human beings, I witness a similar scene in a city neighborhood, on dirt roads and surrounded by shanties. Someone points out we have a beautiful view of the bay, and that ‘this would be a nice place if it was more or less developed, with good houses and cultural options. If they had a good standard of living, they wouldn’t do these atrocities’. But I’m not so sure. Three years ago I saw the dogfight in a corner of the populous and paved Golden Neighborhood, half a mile from the central police station, one block away from where a Granma PCC official lived, less than three blocks from a high school, a combat sports gym and a so-called ‘cultural’ square.

‘It’s hard to clamp down on that’, a retired police chief tells me. ‘You know there’s no law against animal abuse. If there’s no evidence or testimony of gambling –and there almost never is because they have a code of silence– the most we can do is fine them for social indiscipline or get the courts to impose a minor sanction if they reoffend.’

A few weeks ago, Cubans for the Defense of Animals (CEDA) denounced cockfights at a tourist center in the middle of Havana. Surely those who visit the place, and amuse themselves watching the birds tear each other apart, are not people from poorer areas with shanties and dirt roads.

Years ago I met a breeder of fighting cocks in Yara, a Granma municipality. He was a former biology teacher at a high-school; a founder of that boarding school plan in Las Veguitas which combined studies and work. The former professor prided himself on training the birds for state-run cockpits, at which some of the historical fighters for the revolutionary triumph enjoyed themselves. There was no betting, the breeder told me. He wasn’t short of feed for the birds, or of resources of all kinds to do what he did and live comfortably either. I never knew where he got the funding from if it wasn’t from betting, as he maintained.

Therefore, the issues related with abuse and cruelty against animals in Cuba deserve an approach which goes beyond the reductionist view associating marginality with violence and maliciousness. That’s confirmed by the testimony of a fighting dog trainer who graduated as a veterinarian in a Cuban university. This is someone who, at one point, received that humane, altruistic and caring instruction which is supposed to cultivate all Cubans as they move through our educational system, all the way up to university. It puts the spotlight on the social background of the people who train the animals, and pit them against each other and/or bet in those carnages. Are they poor? Is it always people with low economic income? Are these people outside the influence of the ideological apparatus of the State?

The answers to these questions lead us to wonder if it’s enough to have the President of the Republic acknowledge, in his speech to the National Assembly, the need to have a Law against Animal Abuse or for Animal Welfare. Will this law be applicable and effective with a police force lacking a body specialized in crimes against animal welfare? Will this law be applicable and effective if our educational system doesn’t incorporate topics and practices related to animal protection?

In any case: Will we have to wait for the passing of the law so that the ministries of Education, Higher Education, Culture, Agriculture, Tourism, the Interior, Public Health and the media begin to apply coordinated actions from their respective areas of influence, in order to change the anthropocentric perception of our relation with animals? Of course not. The long institutional road for the promotion of an animal-friendly education in Cuba, beyond the enormous and self-sacrificing efforts of CEDA, depends on the political will of the PCC and the Government. A political will which cannot be worked out in a speech or a phrase by the President of the Republic. A political will I fail to see. A political will which, despite games of chance and gambling being forbidden in Cuba since 1959, has never been able to stop them.

(Translated from the original)

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