The audio head, who has worked there for 12 years and is almost an expert on Mexican songs (the favorite songs of fighting cocks breeders), explains that in underground cockfights bets get to the highest amounts:
“In these fights they take turkey cocks (mixed with other breeds and weighting more than 10 pounds), while here only fighting cocks can fight, as commanded by Commander Guillermo García Frías. We call underground fights “del sao” because they are illegal, there are no regulations nor professional judges nor police officers and there is always trouble but they are the competition because many people go there to gamble”.
— How much are we talking about?
— There are different bets, 4000, 5000 or 7000…
— In Cuban pesos?
— Yes, but there are no guarantees and that’s why trouble emerges when a fight doesn’t get to the end because both cocks are pretty hurt, do you understand? And that is fixed by any means possible. If people take it more or less seriously, and they had agreed 5000 then they get 10000. However, other bets are made and there is a head, an underground owner.
— How do legal fights work?
— There is no gambling allowed.
In fact, the Regulation for fighting cocks breeding and commercialization approved by the Ministry of Agriculture states –according to Juventud Tecnica magazine—that if illegal activities are detected, specially any kind of banned gambling, the place will be shut down immediately and definitively.
However, that legal rectitude, in the popular argot, is much ado about nothing…
Several fighting cock breeders interviewed by the magazine explained the different surreptitious ways money moves in these coliseums and Alexis Sigüenza, then National head of cocks for the Empresa de Flora y Fauna noted: “That’s forbidden but that’s impossible to control. Every visitor gambles, no one comes here to fight their cocks for nothing. If we realize they are openly gambling we call their attention and get them out”.
A cock breeder, who asked me not to publish his name, pointed out how bets breach the law without consequences:
“There are always bets; no one will breed a fighting cock for nothing. At least there is more order in state’s pens and anyone can come, no matter if they are from Granma, Santiago de Cuba or Havana. The gambling takes place just as in baseball: through commitments met after and outside the stadium. In del sao pens everyone watches for himself alone. You take the money and place your bet and if for some reason you are not willing to pay you run because you don’t know what can come next”.
— How are payment conflicts solved in state-owned pens?
— Clients complain to the direction claiming a specific fighting cock breeder didn’t honor his commitment. Money is never mentioned. Then, the direction speaks to that specific fighting cock breeder.
— In your opining, why underground pens are so much visited?
— Because they are not closed in July to be reopened in October as state-owned fences do while waiting for cocks to shed their feathers. The season starts in October 10, and the first fights are those of fighting cocks. While they are closed, many breeders move to del sao where it doesn’t matter how hurt can cocks be, they just care about the money. These pens are dangerous… no one cares if animals are clean from chemical substances or artificial spurs and anyone can show up with a knife. In state-owned fences there is order and respect and police officers and animals are checked in a lab where they are prepared for the fight.
As fighting cock…
In the blog Gallos de pelea, a breeder by the name of Reniel Ledesma, who belongs to the Cuban breeders association, posted a few necessary tips –which were confirmed by some of our interviewees—for breeding Cuban fighting cocks.
He stated, for instance, that these birds weigh about three and four pounds. They mainly feed from corn (at noon), yams with eggs and meat (in the afternoon) and water is always a must. He added that they cannot afford industrial food so breeders must feed their cocks with the crops they harvest on the fields.
For their training, they stop feeding them for a week, and the first match only takes five minutes with a cock with the peak tied up. Three days after, they are set to fly up for five minutes so that they can strengthen their wings and their training is increased to 15 minutes, knowing that in underground fights it is only over when one dies or loses by lying down.
“It takes about eight training sessions to get them ready to fight, that is four weeks, and in that time we decide if the cocks are at their 75%. This is done in order to test them in case they have never fought, but if they have fought already and are good, we don’t fight them after 14 or 15 training sessions, then they are at their 100% for sure and that’s when bets get higher”, published Ledesma and added: “They are not fed in the day of the fight”.
Cockfighting, in Cuba and in the world, have brought about strong debates on “how human”it is to let two animals die for money and to what extent countries can take this as legal.
According Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, in his Cómo y porqué se prohibieron las peleas de gallos en Cuba durante la ocupación military norteamericana: “(…) soon after the Spanish domain (…) the first Cubans, form the revolutionary lines, with important positions in the occupation government, started to make arrangements with US high authorities to officially ban cockfights”.
Such efforts succeeded with the proclamation of Order No. 165, of April 19, 1900, published in the Gaceta de la Habana, on the 22. Its first article stated all fights after June 1st would be deemed illegal. By that time, General Maximo Gomez referred to the fights as a “bloody show” and “alien to modern culture”.
In 1909 fights were once again allowed, some people say because of PresidentJosé Miguel Gómez love for cocks. In accordance with researches by journalist Ciro Bianchi in an interview for the show Como me lo contaron for Canal Habana, in 1956 there were about 500 pens in Cuba. Nowadays, even though this activity is regulated by a resolution by the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG by its acronym in Spanish) of June 6, 2001, there is an NGO known as ANIPLANT which works against hurting animals, including cocks.
ANIPLANT states that the Environmental Law in Cuba, is specifically addressed to preserving biological diversification, but does not go further in terms of hurting the fauna.
“Domestic animals are not protected. There are public health measures that aresometimesmet, but they don’t focus on animal’s care, they just care about men”, declared a few years ago Nora García, president of that organization, which has presented draftbill projects for animal protection to the Ministry of Agriculture in several occasions (1988, 90’s, 2003 and 2007)which remain unanswered.