By Yudarkis Veloz Sarduy (Progreso Semanal)
HAVANA TIMES — It will seem contradictory, but I was very happy to find a post on Facebook that denounced the abuse some lion cubs were subjected to at the Camaguey zoo. Of course I was sad for these animals and my city, but my happiness came from the long list of comments and dialogue on these photos.
The majority were appealing for the need to approve an animal protection act, others thanked the public complaint and were advocating for a campaign about this, while others expressed their ideas and gave possible initiatives.
In Cuba, there is a lot to resolve in terms of the quality of human life, as well as the mistakes that could be about to make us all barbarians.
Generally-speaking, we humans have forgotten that we are also animals, what sets us apart – noticeably, I don’t doubt that – makes us powerful and dominating. Theories about speciesism define such a phenomenon as discrimination on grounds of species. “By analogy with racism and sexism, the term “speciesism” is a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species,” can be heard in Joaquin Phoenix’s voice, who narrates the documentary Earthlings, which premiered in 2006.
With the objective of denouncing speciesist practices that don’t figure as a form of discrimination for many due to how normalized these practices are, the documentary shows how our species “uses” other animal species and it defends the thesis that “Since we all inhabit the Earth, all of us are considered earthlings. There is no sexism, no racism, or speciesism in the term earthling. It encompasses each and every one of us, warm or cold-blooded, mammal, vertebrae or invertebrate, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, and human alike.”
In Cuba, it has already become a challenge to make the person standing next to you realize that we are the same species. The “struggle”, the “sorting yourself out”, the getting ahead by elbowing your way forward has become too everyday in our country.
However, there are still people who want to kickstart a revolution for animal rights. Why aren’t there any laws in Cuba that protect animals? Why don’t vets have permission to administer prescribed medications? The State has encouraged the formation of vets, but how is it possible that a doctor (because a vet is a doctor) can’t give out prescriptions to their patients (because a sick animal is also a patient, no?)?
In Cuba, especially in Havana, and more specifically in tourist areas, several massive deworming street dog campaigns have been carried out. The City Historian’s Office has taken on Old Havana’s dogs almost as a part of this heritage that is celebrated so much, and today it’s normal to see them walking about with their ID, and every institution in surrounding areas have taken responsibility for at least one of them. But, what happens with the rest of dogs in Cuba? And cats? And with the other animals that are in high-demand in the religious sector?
It’s true that there is a deeply-entrenched tradition of love for animals in Cuba. Once, I heard a lady talk about how she spent her childhood sleeping with her billy goat; you see young and old people raising pigeons and other birds, but I can’t imagine the face of that woman, as a girl, if they had tried to sell her the goat for one of these “offerings” that are more business today than anything to do with religion. And you don’t have to open your eyes too wide with shock to know that the minimum a pigeon costs is 100 pesos, and that, even hummingbirds, yes, this untrappable and tiny bird, form a part of some of these rituals that are normally done for religion. “Over twenty rams enter this house a week,” a friend tells me about a babalao neighbor (santeria priest) who dedicates himself to carrying out these rituals for people.
But, I do open my eyes wide when I hear the story about cat soup. “This ischemia business is cured with cat soup,” another friend, a neighbor who was worried about her grandmother’s recent illness was told, “Cat soup, my child,” was the specialist’s recommendation at the Rehabilitation Center.
Stunned and suspecting that we might have learned this during the Special Perio crisis, when there wasn’t a dog or cat on the street in spite of many families having to give up their pets because they didn’t have any food to share. I also think about the lashes a horse receives and how they cry, like children, when they are being sacrificed, because they say that its meat is good for increasing blood haemoglobin.
I don’t have much space to discuss the vegan conflict because I do believe in the food chain; and because my grandfather, who stopped going to pens for fighting cocks one fine day, didn’t let me name the new piglet we bought to fatten up and then roast at the end of the year; and because it is already hard to eat something other than chicken or pork, not to mention the price of fruits and vegetables. But, I do call upon all of us to remember that we are all earthlings, like the documentary says and I’ll jump on the campaign that needs to be drawn up so that these issues are studied more closely.
That’s why I’m going to point out one specific comment that the photos I mentioned at the beginning provoked: “Cuba needs to hurry up and approve an animal protection law […] and come into tune with global demand that bans the use of animals in shows. But anyhow, if Cuba still needs legislation to protect people, you can imagine just how many years of suffering these lions have ahead of them.”