HAVANA – Hundreds of Cubans turned out on Sunday to march through downtown Havana demanding an end to the mistreatment of animals and the approval of a law on the matter, a protest that was allowed by the communist island’s authorities, where independent public demonstrations are unusual.
According to organizers, this is the first unofficial march in decades in Cuba where authorities authorized the protesters to be able to carry signs.
With shouts of “Law yes, mistreatment no” and displaying orange ribbons and posters saying “Stop animal mistreatment – They also feel,” the activists walked for about three kilometers (two miles) along an authorized route that had initially been scheduled to take them via 23rd Avenue, one of the city’s main arteries, but which had to be changed to a parallel street because traffic did not stop for them on the larger boulevard.
The route took the marchers to the Colon Cemetery and the tomb of Jeannette Ryder (1866-1931), an American who settled in Cuba and subsequently became the symbol of the animal rights movement on the island.
Because of her commitment to this cause, the date of Ryder’s death – April 10, 1931 – was chosen by island authorities to be commemorated as “Dog Day.”
The demonstrators arrived at her tomb – which is famous in the cemetery for the sculpture of Ryder and her faithful dog Rinti, who came to her grave each day until he died – “hopeful” that this time the government will take their request into account and draft an Animal Protection Law, one of the marchers, Daniel, told EFE.
“This week, a new Constitution will be proclaimed and now comes a phase in which they’re going to draft and update the legal codes and laws and we’re hoping that events like this help raise awareness for our cause and that finally a law to protect animals in Cuba will be approved,” the young attorney said.
Another activist, a member of the voluntary Cubans for the Defense of Animals (CEDA), marveled at the “number of people who have come out this year, many more than at the last gathering,” the larger turnout resulting – she suggested – from the group’s successful campaign on the social networks and the growing use among the public of Twitter.
“It’s incredible how activism has grown now that we have mobile devices and can connect with each other,” she said, referring to the recent activation of the mobile Internet in Cuba, which nevertheless remains among the world’s most “offline” nations.
In the speeches delivered at Ryder’s tomb, optimism prevailed and one of the speakers even said that the group was hoping that the march next year would be organized to “thank (the authorities) for the approval of an Animal Protection Law.”
In Cuba, the celebration of Dog Day had passed virtually unnoticed until a few years ago, when more people began to consider demanding animal rights a worthwhile effort and the marches began having more participants.
The Aniplant association is, for the moment, the only legally registered collective to defend animals in the country, where besides CEDA the Protection of the City’s Animals (PAC), with some 2,000 volunteers in Havana, has also spontaneously arisen.
These volunteer movements are working to raise awareness about the rights of all animals, organize adoptions, vaccination and free spaying campaigns, and they also denounce incidents of animal mistreatment, which are still not penalized because of the legal vacuum that still persists in that area in Cuba.
Last November, CEDA made public the fact that thanks to its complaints a 29-year-old Cuban man was arrested for posting on the Internet how he tortured and raped several dogs, a case that sparked “sadness and disgust” and highlighted – according to the collective – the “indispensable” need for appropriate legislation.
The activists have also called attention to the need to protect horses used in transport and agriculture, the roosters and dogs used in cock- and dog-fighting – practices that are illegal in Cuba – and even the rights of exotic animals housed in cages in zoos.