Saturday, January 26, 2013

One Cruel Sport Right in the Middle of Town

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO -- The Isla Verde area is a resort strip close to downtown San Juan known for its tony beach-front hotels, nice restaurants, and fancy condos. So imagine my surprise when I left my hotel one steamy morning (while at the Place, Race and Ethnicity Conference, with two hours of free time) and about five minutes later stumbled upon Club Gallistico De Puerto Rico. The club is an imposing  cockfighting arena. The geographical juxtaposition of fine hotels and an arena for one of the oldest and often times illegal blood sports in the world seemed wrong to me. The sport is unduly cruel to the roosters (gamecock), whose feet are adorned with sharp plastic "spurs" for each match. It is also illegal in the United States.

But cockfighting is legal in Puerto Rico. It is also a popular sport as well as a tourist attraction. In fact, you could say that San Juan is to cockfighting what Vegas is to boxing, or what Barcelona is to bullfighting or, perhaps, what illegal dog fighting is to the U.S. rural South.  So while the presence of a cockfighting arena certainly horrified me, it was business as usual for all the locals going about their busy day. Who was I to judge: U.S. society enacts a great deal of cruelty upon many types of animals.

Regulated by the Puerto Rican government, the country has about 86 official arenas (clubs), like Club Gallistico. Cockfighting was given official status in 1933 as a 'gentleman's sport'. According to a recent Associated Press article, Puerto Rico legislators passed a much-lauded resolution in 2010 to protect cockfighting as an integral part of the country's folklore. Until the recent economic crisis, cockfighting was a significant revenue source. However, over the last few years, many matches have gone underground to avoid all the officially-legislated fees.

Club Gallistico was closed when I happened upon it that morning, and the few employees on the premises didn't seem to mind me walking around the arena and taking photographs. I even found where the roosters live. They certainly didn't seem very aggressive. In fact, I thought they were pretty docile and rather scrawny. Compared to what they have to endure in a match -- many of them getting either killed or badly injured --  their accommodations looked clean and comfortable with plenty of food and water.

As I walk out of the parking lot I noticed a sign that, translated into English, read: "Parking Fridays and Saturdays 24 hours, ticket required". I interpreted this to mean that cockfighting is a weekend event that goes on around the clock. The bloody images that came to mind were so disturbing I crossed the street and went to the nearby nail salon.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at


  1. The more we learn about animals and their capacities for love, friendship, empathy and devotion, the greater the crime that we perpetrate such horrors upon them. The infliction of suffering upon animals is an injustice that must be ended before we can ever call ourselves truly free, before we can even dream of being fully human.

  2. That just about says it all. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Cruelty is cruelty whether it's in the US, China, Vanuatu, or Puerto Rico. These animals, within their own right, should have the freedom to live a life free of human terror and cruelty whether that's a factory farm in the US, fur farm in China, or elephant camp in Thailand. Just because something is legal in a country doesn't mean it's acceptable by everyone. As long there is a voice whether it's local or international, there is still hope that cruelty doesn't have to continue.