Frustration at lack of help fuels defense of cockfighting against U.S. federal “meddling”
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico––Puerto Rican cockfighters and politicians who boast of standing beside them may have been the only winners when U.S. Representative Chip Roy on May 24, 2019 blocked more than $900 million in disaster relief funding for victims of Hurricane Maria.
Roy, a Republican representing the hill country between Austin and San Antonio, Texas, cast the only vote against a $19 billion disaster relief package, which would have helped communities hit by hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, and wildfires throughout the U.S. and U.S.-held territories.
Aid bill was backed by both Republicans & Democrats
The disaster relief bill had already cleared the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate by an 85-8 margin, but had to win unanimous consent from the House of Representatives to take effect, since so many members of the House had already left for the week-long Memorial Day recess that a quorum could not be obtained for a roll call vote.
Passage of the bill is now stalled until early June.
A two-week delay is therefore expected in apportioning relief for Puerto Rico, still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria. Hitting in the last days of September/October 2017, Hurricane Maria killed at least 3,057 people, 2,975 of them in Puerto Rico, and destroyed or damaged most of the roads and electric power grid on the island.
Cockfighting banned by 2018 Farm Bill
The disaster relief bill has nothing directly to do with cockfighting, but––on top of 20 months’ worth of insults to Puerto Ricans issued by U.S. President Donald Trump, while hurricane recovery aid has repeatedly been delayed––can be expected to feed simmering anger toward the U.S. government.
The pro-cockfighting Puerto Rican political regime has enlisted that anger and frustration in a culture-based defense of the cockfighting industry against a provision of the 2018 Farm Bill that extended a 2012 U.S. federal law prohibiting attendance at cockfights to all U.S.-held territories, effective on January 1, 2020.
Cockfighting visibly persists in all five self-governing U.S. territories, among them Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean region, plus Guam, the Mariana Islands, and American Samoa in the Pacific region. Among them, cockfighting has the largest economic presence, albeit often exaggerated by cockfighting defenders, in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican government sues to overturn ban
Only one day before Texas Representative Chip Roy delayed the disaster relief package, Puerto Rico chief of staff Ricardo Llerandi on May 23, 2019 announced that the Puerto Rican government had filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit against enforcement of the cockfighting ban brought by the Club Gallístico de Puerto Rico in San Juan federal court.
Declared Llerandi in a prepared statement, “We have been and we will be beside the cockfighters.”
Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rosselló, a Democrat, and resident commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, a Repubican, both actively lobbied Congress to try to get the cockfighting ban removed from the 2018 Farm Bill.
Rosselló, however, flew to Washington D.C. to lobby in person a day too late: the 2018 Farm Bill passed before his flight landed.
Police prohibited from busting cockfights
Since then, Rosselló, González-Colón, and other Puerto Rican politicians have waged a rear-guard defense of cockfighting at the local level.
Gonzalez-Colon has alleged that “prohibition of cockfighting will likely force the highly regulated industry in Puerto Rico to become an underground industry, without the safeguards or the oversight of the local government, bringing cockfights back to our streets, absent of local control or government oversight, resulting in risks that could, overall, hurt the community health or public safety.”
And Rosselló, González-Colón, and their allies have worked to ensure that this will happen.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, for instance, in January 2019 signed an ordinance prohibiting city police from arresting cockfighters and cockfight attendees.
Explained Making Sen$e correspondent Gabriela Martinez, “Federal authorities could still work to shut down the matches, but they would likely not receive help from local law enforcement, at least in San Juan.”
Cockfighting claimed as “cultural right”
Days earlier, the Puerto Rico’s Chamber of Representatives approved a resolution asking Congress to either repeal the cockfighting ban “or allow a five-year transitional period before implementation of the ban,” Martinez wrote.
“The resolution argues,” Martinez summarized, “that cockfighting was established as a cultural right under a 2007 law, in the context of Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that ‘everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”
“Not all Puerto Ricans consider cockfighting an intrinsic aspect of the culture,” Martinez acknowledged.
Only a third of Puerto Rican voters have been to a cockfight
Martinez cited a survey of 1,000 Puerto Rican registered voters conducted for the Humane Society of the U.S.
According the HSUS president Kitty Block, the survey found that 43% of Puerto Ricans supported prohibition of cockfighting, 21% favored legal cockfighting, and 36% were undecided.
Perhaps more telling, blogged Block, “Only about a third had ever attended a cockfight.”
Bad Bunny against government defense of cockfights
Observed Martinez, “Women’s rights organizations, such as Colectiva Feminista en Acción, columnists for the island’s main newspapers, and even musical artist Bad Bunny [the reggae singer Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio] have criticized the government for focusing on saving cockfights while ignoring the increasing rates of gender violence on the island.”
Chantal Benet, an economist at the independent consulting firm Inteligencia Económica, told Martinez that, as Martinez paraphrased, “If the ban is enacted, entire communities will have to transition from an informal economy that relied on the cockfighting industry, including animal feed stores and restaurants that serve the clientele of cockfighting venues, to an economy that relies more heavily on traditional businesses, such as selling chicken for food production. The loss [of cockfighting income] will be particularly acute in rural areas,” Benet predicted, “which are considerably poorer than the island’s cities.”
Economic claims at odds with reality
But Benet’s statements, as well as the economic claims of the defenders of cockfighting in the Puerto Rican government, were at odds with the reality that only one cockfighting venue on the island, the tourist-oriented Coliseo Isla Verde stadium in San Juan, actually brings money into Puerto Rico.
All the rest merely recycle the wages of workers who bet on cockfights into the hands of those who run the cockpits and ancillary businesses, helping to keep poor people poor.
Puerto Rico currently claims “nearly 80” licensed cockfighting clubs, down from 86 in 2012, 103 in 2007, and 110 in 2003.
Cockfighting employment plummets
Gonzalez-Colon told media that cockfighting in Puerto Rico currently “accounts for $18 million in economic activity and provides jobs to nearly 27,000 people.”
As recently as 2007, however, the Puerto Rico Sports & Recreation Department told Associated Press reporter David McFadden that cockfighting employed about 50,000 people “in a direct or indirect manner.”
Circa 2000 the Puerto Rican cockfighting industry was said to employ 100,000 people.
At that time cockfighting was said to generate nearly $400 million per year in ticket sales, with total cockfighting attendance of 1.25 million. More recent estimates have fallen steadily, from $100 million to $30 million to the present $18 million.
Baseball interest & income dwarf cockfighting
The Puerto Rico Sports & Recreation Department has claimed that more Puerto Ricans attend cockfights than watch baseball, but the only year in which that ever appears to have been true was 2007, when the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente, formerly known as Liga de Béisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico, suspended play for the first and only time since the league formed in 1938.
Searching NewsPaperArchive.com and NewsLibrary.com, and counting only articles published in Spanish, ANIMALS 24-7 found that baseball coverage has easily exceeded cockfighting coverage by Puerto Rican media in every decade since 1950, by a margin of about 40% until the 1980s.
Then, as the number of Puerto Ricans playing in the U.S. major leagues soared, baseball coverage rose to eclipse cockfighting coverage by a current ratio of about ten-to-one, according to NewspaperArchive.com, which includes only print media, and more than 140-to-one according to NewsLibrary.com, which includes both print and electronic media.
If cockfighting is currently worth about $18 million per year to the Puerto Rican economy, it is worth about $2 million less per year than the top-paid four Puerto Rican major league players, among 28 on current major league rosters.
Cockfighting came with slavery
Like baseball, cockfighting is a cultural transplant to Puerto Rico. Spanish invaders are believed to have introduced cockfighting to Puerto Rico, along with human slavery, in the 16th century. The first governmental recognition of cockfighting came in April 1770.
Slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico in 1873.
Cockfighting was abolished as well, after the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico in 1898, one year after the introduction of baseball.
While baseball soon caught on as the Puerto Rican national sport, cockfighting all but vanished from the public record until August 1933.
Entering 1933, cockfighting was illegal in all 48 states and most U.S. territories.
How the KKK brought cockfighting back to Puerto Rico
Within the U.S., however, the Ku Klux Klan had great influence among Southern elected officials, then mostly Democrats, and within Southern law enforcement.
The KKK funded itself in large part by protecting moonshiners, cockfighters, and dogfighters from arrest.
Of these criminal activities, moonshining was by far the most lucrative for the KKK, since the sale of alcoholic beverages had been federally prohibited since 1919. This made the entire alcoholic beverage industry a monopoly controlled by organized crime, the KKK as much as the mafia organized crime families.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, ran for the U.S. presidency in 1932, on a platform that included ending the federal prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages, the KKK responded to the potential loss of payoffs from moonshiners by trying to make lifting prohibition of cockfighting a part of the deal––while remaining in control of it.
Robert Hayes Gore
To win Democratic support in the South and Midwest, needed to secure his nomination, the Roosevelt campaign helped several cockfighting enthusiasts to get elected to Congress at the same time Roosevelt himself was elected and and appointed several others to politically influential positions.
This was not because Roosevelt favored cockfighting, but because he was apparently oblivious to it in his quest to find allies for abolishing prohibition of alcoholic beverages.
Ironically, Roosevelt expected abolishing prohibition of alcoholic beverages to break organized crime, including the KKK as well as the mafia crime families.
Most notoriously, Roosevelt appointed Kentucky-born cockfighting enthusiast Robert Hayes Gore (1886-1972), then a newspaper publisher in Terre Haute, Indiana, a KKK bastion, to become Governor of Puerto Rico.
James R. Beverley, a Texan who had served two terms as Governor of Puerto Rico, undid the Puerto Rican ban on cockfighting as one of his last acts before leaving office, and then Robert Hayes Gore in his July 1, 1933 inauguration speech declared his intent to boost the Puerto Rican economy by reintroducing and promoting cockfighting, 35 years––a full generation plus––after it had virtually disappeared.
Gore less than a week later attended a cockfight organized in his honor.
Gore was removed from office due to corruption and incompetence within less than eight months.
Unfortunately, Hayes’ legacy and that of the other cockfighting enthusiasts who came to power with Roosevelt was that much of 50 years of legislative progress toward abolishing cockfighting was undone, especially in the Southern and Southwestern states, and has had to be redone in our own time.