Cockfighting to End in Puerto Rico

A cockfight in Puerto Rico in 1937. The blood sport will be federally banned on the island after December 20. / Ed Rosskam – Library of Congress

Cockfighting in Puerto Rico will end on December 20, officially banned by Congress a year ago, a fact that has upset some people who say cockfighting is a cultural thing handed down from Spain.

I have never attended a cockfight but plenty of my family members have, as the saying goes.

If cockfighting is cultural thing, what does that say about Puerto Rico? The fact is that PuertoRico doesn’t treat any of its animals well, stray dogs being a prime example. There are thousands of them across the island, a longstanding issue that has garnered much recent attention.

Chrissy Beckles, founder of the Sato Project, a nonprofit that rescues abused and/or abandoned dogs in Puerto Rico, told the The Village Voice in 2018, “It’s a public health crisis. If nothing is done about it, it will continue to escalate.”

She has rescued over 1,400 dogs since 2011, flying them to New York. The Puerto Rico government has begun to address the problem, as have other local organizations such as Save a Sato. Oftentimes, people poison satos, as street dogs are known on the island, out of either a sense of malice or compassion. Hard to tell.

I’m not a fan of cockfighting, believing that it is a form of animal cruelty similar to dogfighting, from which we should derive no pleasure. The cocks often are outfitted with spurs, the better to injure. Sometimes they are drugged, making them more aggressive. Not to mention that gambling is a big part of the sport.

No elected official in Puerto Rico is going to oppose cockfighting, fearing voter wrath and believing the bull about “it’s part of our culture.” Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González defended cockfighting earlier this month, stating it could be used as therapy for traumatized soldiers returning from war, a dubious argument.

Here’s the thing – even in Spain, from which Puerto Rico inherited the blood sport centuries ago, cockfighting is outlawed nearly everywhere. So much for the “culture” argument.

The Puerto Rican people have spoken on the issue of cockfighting for its popularity has dwindled considerably over the years, with just 60 or so arenas remaining after Hurricane María. A poll conducted for the Humane Society of the U.S., which (ojo) sought the cockfighting ban, stated that 43% of Puerto Ricans support the ban, while 21% favor legal cockfighting, and 36% are undecided.

Put another way, the poll could mean that 57% favor legal cockfighting or 79% oppose it, depending on how the undecideds are calculated.

Like everything else about Puerto Rico, the prohibition of cockfighting is wrapped up in the island’s territorial political status. The Club Gallístico de Puerto Rico unsuccessfully sued last May claiming that Congress violated Puerto Rico’s rights because it had no say in the decision-making process, but a federal court ruled in October, stating, “The Court finds this argument to be unfounded.”

The truth is, there was no clamor to ban cockfighting in Puerto Rico among Puerto Ricans. The prohibition was imposed by Congress as part of last year’s Farm Bill, not the island government. And the Humane Society of the U.S. pushed for it, not a local Puerto Rico organization. González earlier this year legitimately complained that not a single hearing was held on the issue.

It’s the second time the United States has imposed a cockfighting ban in Puerto Rico, the first time being shortly after the United States took over after the Cuban-Spanish-American War. That ban lasted three decades.

Among diehards cockfighting will become a clandestine activity from which the Puerto Rico government can no longer collect taxes. Cockfighting may even experience a slight resurgence now that it’s banned. But, long term, it’s likely to become more dangerous, fueled by even more drugs and gambling. All problematic.

Still, I bid farewell to the cruelty of cockfighting for it is unjustifiable in an animal loving society.

˜˜María T. Padilla – Editor

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