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The US Congress Has Passed A New Law That Will Finally Put An End To Cockfighting In Puerto Rico

Before Spain colonized what we now call Puerto Rico, cockfighting was virtually nonexistent on the island. Spanish culture has long celebrated the entertainment value of watching animals fight to their death, from animals as small as chickens to as large as bulls. When Spain colonized Puerto Rico in the 17th century, imperialists brought their love of cockfighting to the island. Whatever your opinions on cockfighting, today, it’s become part of Puerto Rican culture. In fact, Puerto Ricans refused to take orders from their subsequent ruler, the United States, during a 34-year prohibition of cockfighting. 

Still, Congress is once again flexing its arm to eradicate the blood sport on the island. Animal activists had lobbied to enact a complete ban, including the last remaining U.S. territories, which includes Puerto Rico. 

Puerto Ricans are calling the ban on cockfighting an attack on their culture.

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Vice called cockfighting “Puerto Rico’s most resilient industry” in 2016, but the $100 million industry has been in decline. Since 1985, the number of licensed arenas has nearly halved from 132 arenas to just 64 regulated arenas remaining. Still, around one million Puerto Ricans attend fights every year, which contributes to the livelihood of the veterinarians and cockfighters who profit off the blood sport.

Then governor Ricardo Rosselló didn’t travel to Washington in time to fight the bill.

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Many Puerto Ricans feel like their status as a “U.S. territory” remains a euphemism for the reality: that Puerto Rico remains the world’s oldest colony. While a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico has no voice in Congress, the legislative body that passed the bill into effect, as part of a sweeping measure to limit animal cruelty across the United States. 

Even Puerto Ricans who reject the sport as a celebration of animal cruelty, still find it paternalistic for culture to be policed. It could have been a celebration of decolonizing the island from Spain’s rule, but Puerto Rican’s voices were silenced in the decision-making process. That said, a Humane Society poll of 1,000 registered Puerto Rican voters found that the majority of respondents supported the ban.

In a natural environment, roosters only fight when forced.

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According to Paul Siegel, a fowl genetics expert, cockfights are a rarity in the natural world because the weaker bird usually flees. “If there’s a way to escape, they’ll just get the heck out,” Siegel told PETA. Cockfighters deliberately create an arena that they cannot escape from. 

Animal activists think profit is no excuse for the cruelty inflicted on the birds.

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Then, they hot glue razor spurs to the roosters’ sensitive feet, and allow the roosters to fight to the death. Often, cockfighters will amputate the bony spurs roosters are born with, in order to glue the more fatal weapons on. Before entering the ring, cockfighters will pluck the feathers off their thighs so that they won’t be weakened by the pain of it happening in the ring. Before those crucial moments, they spend the majority of their lives socially isolated behind chicken wire.

“It’s like taking care of a baby,” cockfighter Wilfredo Burgo told Vice. “You take care of it from the egg. But you get used to it when they die.”

While cockfighters are feeling attacked by the U.S. government, they plan to fight back.

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In the weeks after Congress passed the cockfighting ban, cockfighters were admittedly depressed, and stayed home from the fights. Six weeks later, two thousand cockfighters rallied outside the capitol building, thrusting their prized roosters into the air. San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, vowed that her city police forces will enforce the law, and that, “if federal agents want to, they’ll have to do it alone!”

“I’m a sixth-generation cockfighter,” José Torres, a trainer of fighting roosters, told NPR. “This is how I support my family. But I also inherited this. I was going to pass this onto my children.” Torres already informed his family that if the police show up at his door to confiscate the 250 roosters living in cages in his backyard, they will have to kill him first. He claims that there are thousands of cockfighters who plan for bloodshed the moment the ban is enforced.

Many are predicting that cockfighting will become an underground sport once again.

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Cockfighters are estimating that there are probably around 1 million roosters raised to fight on the island. Federal agents will likely euthanize the majority of the birds, sparing them an otherwise violent death.

READ: Puerto Rico Was Purposefully Denied Disaster Relief They Were Guaranteed By The Federal Government

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