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Cockfighting is legal in most of Latin America. Via Xakata Mexico.
Cockfighting is legal in most of Latin America. Via Xakata Mexico.

Puerto Rico vs. U.S.: Who's the rooster in the pen?

The Puerto Rican government will enact a law to keep cockfights alive, despite a U.S. ban.

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They'll continue to fight even if they try to stop them this Friday. Puerto Rican lawmakers have responded to the U.S. federal government's ban that could end a bloody tradition that has been going on in the island for 400 years and that generates about $18 million annually, has more than 71 companies dedicated to its practice, and employs about 27,000 people. 

To that end, legislators in Puerto Rico announced Tuesday that they will approve a law so that what they define as a "national sport" will continue to be so, questioning another federal law signed last year by the Trump government and despite the fact that cockfighting is prohibited in all 50 U.S. states since 2007. 

"Certainly, we are challenging a federal law, we know what that implies," Gabriel Rodriguez Aguiló, co-author of the bill, told AP

While waiting for the island's governor, Wanda Sanchez, to sign the new legislation, its promoters allege that the only aspect of cockfighting that should be illegal is to export or import cocks or services related to the fights and that its prohibition in the United States, added Puerto Rican Sports Department Secretary Adriana Sanchez, has more to do with economic reasons than animal welfare. 

It's a tug-of-war that encompasses much more than the island's fighting ring and rural businesses, which were decimated in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and comes just as President Trump has cut Puerto Rico's Medicaid funds, which allocate up to $5.7 from the original $12 billion in four years.

A fight to the death

Roosters are bred as feather gladiators, solely for the enjoyment and the fight to the death. Many of them, ecological associations report, spend most of their lives tied to one leg and often their breeders ('galleros') tear off their feathers or mutilate their crests to prevent them from being pulled out in the ring, or drug them to be more aggressive with their opponents. 

Although the fight is regulated and legal in many Latin American countries, illegal gambling and organized crime move around it, and even, some say, the threat of disease, because many coops sew and wash birds without any protection. 

However, those who run this type of business claim that they follow the strictest hygiene standards and that the suffering of these animals is no less than that suffered by racehorses or rodeo animals. 

"If Washington wants to deal with cruelty to animals, it must start with its own home," Gerardo Mora, director of the Puerto Rico Gallic Affairs Commission, told Nuevo Herald.

"There are millions of hunters in the U.S. who kill deers, decapitate them and hang them like a trophy, and nobody says anything," he added. "But we have people in Congress who don't even know where Puerto Rico is and they want to eliminate our chicken industry." 

Trump's federal law against roosters comes just as Puerto Rico's Medicaid funds have been cut to $5.7 billion in four years.

Although critics say Puerto Ricans exaggerate about the economic benefit of these fights, the reality is that much of the cockfighting business comes from rural areas, hit hard by economic recession and natural disasters. 

"This is going to wipe us out," said Adrian Gevares, who has two farms on the island and more than 20 dependents that he may have to fire if the bill doesn't come to fruition. 

"This is my business, my way of life. I depend on it to support my children, pay for my health insurance and my car. I'm not ready for it to end," he added. 

While we wait to see who will win the fight, many breeders with potential are already moving to the Dominican Republic, where the much-less-regulated activity is booming.

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