Cockfighting Goes to Court

Last year, the U.S. Congress enacted a law making the ancient sport of cockfighting illegal in the U.S. territories, just as it is in all 50 states. Puerto Rico’s galleros, the owners and trainers of the birds, protested the ban, but the Department of Justice reiterated and reinforced the earlier decision this week.

As previously reported in El Nuevo Dia, two cockfighting groups, The Asociación Cultural y Recreativa del Gallo Fino de Pelea and the Club Gallístico de Puerto Rico, went to court over the ban. They argued that making cockfighting illegal would have negative consequences for the people of Puerto Rico.

Specifically, they named these drawbacks:

  • “deprivation of their rights to property and liberty”
  •  loss of “lawful business opportunities, loss of income and profits”
  • “deprivation of lifestyles often practiced” in Puerto Rico.

The Justice Department’s argument focused on the fact that federal law already forbade many aspects of the sport, including buying, owning, and transporting gamecocks; selling, buying, delivering, or transporting knives for cockfighting; and attending animal fights.

Past or future

The new ruling actually is “only the last step,” a representative from the Department of Justice (DOJ) explained, since it prevents individuals from holding a cockfight or using the postal service to encourage it. The laws making most of the activities involved in cockfighting illegal are, according to the Department, so old that they can’t be challenged any more.

The cockfighting ban will go into effect on December 20, 2019, yet a DOJ spokesman claims that it is not in fact a new ban. Nearly every activity involved in cockfighting was already illegal in Puerto Rico. However, these rules were not enforced.

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, together with the Resident Commissioners of the other affected territories, introduced a bill to repeal the law effected legislation in February. Gonzalez-Colon continues to argue against the law, pointing out that it pro vides no funding for its enforcement.

The territorial clause

The Justice department also pointed out that the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution says that Congress may “make all needful rules and regulations respecting territories.” This means, he said, that Congress has the power to make this change regardless of the potential effects on Puerto Rico’s economy or culture.

Cockfighting, according to estimates, is a $100 million industry on the Island. With $18 million in direct revenue and much more if indirect costs and revenues are included, the sport is one of the Island’s thriving industries. Giving medical care for the birds, selling food and drink to participants, providing security for the events — there are many, many different jobs involved. Gambling, which the galleros downplay, is another element.

Cockfighting has been illegal in all 50 States since Louisiana gave up the practice in 2008. Laws ending the sport — almost entirely because it is considered cruel to the chickens — were controversial in many States. Puerto Rico, as a territory of the United States, had no voting members to provide an official voice for the Island  in votes on the Farm Bill.

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