Human Interest

Cockfighting in Colombia: A violent tradition now under threat

By Laia Mataix Gomez

Bogota, Nov 2 (EFE).- On a chalkboard at the entrance, the cockpit’s owners note down in perfect penmanship key data about the different combatants.

The names of the roosters are irrelevant, but their weight and size are important to ensure fair conditions for that night’s battles.

Colombian-born Nobel literature laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014) captured the entrenched importance of cockfighting in his homeland in his famed novella “No One Writes to the Colonel,” and even today that blood sport remains an integral part of popular culture in the Andean nation.

Dozens of cockpits in Bogota and thousands across Colombia continue to operate.

The procedure at every venue is similar, with the owners of the gamecocks arriving at the pit, weighing and measuring their birds and then placing them in a cage where they wait their turn to fight.

Before they enter the ring, the roosters are fitted with tortoise-shell or plastic spikes that are affixed to their feet with hot wax or glue.

In San Miguel, a Bogota cockpit that has served as a venue for fights for 62 years, the judges perform a sort of anti-doping test and then a pre-fight recognition ritual in which the birds are repeatedly brought close together and then separated.

Once that last step is finished and the birds’ owners have placed their bets and settled in to watch, the roosters are each released at different extremes of the ring and then the eight-minute battle to the death begins.

There’s no sector that protects animals more than cockfighters,” one gamecock owner, Carlos Mario Isaza, said. “There are cockfights in virtually every country. That’s part of the cultural legacy the Spanish left us. And all we’re asking is that it not only be respected but also that the Colombian government guarantee” its survival.

Another gamecock owner, Raul Rojas, told Efe for his part that this activity is deeply ingrained in the culture in rural areas.

“What does a peasant farmer in Colombia do? He works all week, and on Sunday he goes to Mass and to the cockpit.”

In response to those who say the practice amounts to animal torture, he says the violence has a purpose: “humanity’s development.”

Nevertheless, Sen. Andrea Padilla, the sponsor of a bill that aims to ban cockfights and six other spectacles involving animals, recalled that the Constitutional Court has drawn a distinction “between culture and cultural practices.”

“The right of access to culture is not violated by banning cultural practices that may enter into conflict with other values,” Padilla said, citing the high court’s ruling.

That legislation, however, has raised some hackles among cockfighters like Isaza, who say the blood sport is “deeply rooted (in the culture) and is part of the activity of many peasant farmers.”

He said it angers him that a group of lawmakers “who are unaware of the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity would propose banning these traditions with the pretext of protecting a species.”

“You can’t culturally mold the country … try to tell the bulk of the Colombian population how” to spend their free time, Isaza added.

The president of the National Federation of Colombian Cockfighting (Fenagacol), Olimpo Oliver, said the sport will die out over time because its fans are almost all middle-aged and elderly men and the tradition is not being passed down to the younger generation.

Now hanging by a thread in Colombia, cockfighting increasingly finds itself trapped in time, a relic that’s being cast aside by modernity and a growing movement to expand rights to all sentient beings. EFE

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