Governor and Commonwealth Legislature Passed Sham Cockfighting Bill on the Eve of the Effective Date of the Federal Law Outlawing This Form of Cruelty
Washington, D.C. — Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and the Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF) sent a letter today to Puerto Rico’s Governor Wanda Vázquez that denounces her recent signing of a bill to authorize cockfighting because it has “no binding legal effect” but does have the practical effect of “promoting illegal activity.” Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, the Congress has the authority to ban cockfighting and trump Commonwealth law on this subject, and it has chosen to do so. That authority has been upheld by the federal courts.
On December 20th, a federal law passed one year ago went into effect banning cockfighting and dogfighting everywhere in the United States, including in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. In late October, U.S. District Court Judge Gustavo A. Gelpi rejected claims by Club Gallistico and other cockfighters in Puerto Rico challenging the amendment to the Animal Welfare Act. Judge Gelpi granted the federal government’s motion for summary judgment, declaring that “[n]either the Commonwealth’s political statutes, nor the Territorial Clause, impede the United States Government from enacting laws that apply to all citizens of this Nation alike, whether as a state or territory.” On December 20th, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit denied an emergency stay sought by the cockfighting clubs. The appeal on the merits of the case will be heard in 2020.
“The maneuver by the Commonwealth’s politicians to authorize cockfighting without any legitimate authority to do so has promoted criminal acts of animal cruelty,” said Wayne Pacelle, founder of Animal Wellness Action. “We have received dozens of reports of staged fighting since Friday, and this behavior reflects contempt for the rule of law. Elected officials, duly bound by the Constitution of the United States, were reckless in taking this action.”
“The action by the legislature and the governor amounts to political grandstanding at its worst,” said Ana María Hernández Martí, an Animal Law attorney based in San Juan. “The territory, including the cockfighters and the politicians, had a year to sort this out, and then on the eve of the effective date of the law, they pull this stunt. Puerto Ricans should be upset that lawmakers are giving the signal to cockfighters that they can break the law.”
Under the federal anti-animal fighting law, it is a crime to:
- Knowingly sponsor or exhibit in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly attend an animal fighting venture, or knowingly cause an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attend an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly buy, sell, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any animal for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly use the mail service of the U.S. Postal Service, or any “written, wire, radio televisions or other form of communications in, or use a facility of, interstate commerce,” to advertise an animal for use in an animal fighting venture, or to advertise a knife, gaff, or other sharp instrument designed to be attached to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture, or to promote or in any other manner further an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the U.S.;
- Knowingly sell, buy, transport, or deliver in interstate or foreign commerce “a knife, a gaff, or any other sharp instrument” designed or intended to be attached to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture.
The AWA and AWF announced a rewards program to run for an indefinite time that provides a $2,500 reward for any individual who provides critical information that results in a successful federal prosecution of an individual or set of individuals who violate the federal law against animal fighting (7 U.S.C. § 2156). Animal Wellness has already received hundreds of tips from citizens concerned about illegal cockfighting and all these tips are being processed.
Animal Wellness notes that the claims of the economic impact of cockfighting are wildly exaggerated. The 2012 Puerto Rico Census of Agriculture (COA) — the last available document on the website and available to the public — reports 324 “cockfighting farms” reporting 6,667 fighting cocks and sales of $1,187,102. It is already illegal under federal law for any birds to be shipped into or out of Puerto Rico for fighting purposes, and that would be the main way money is generated.
Puerto Rico’s Jennifer Gonzalez Colon, the Commonwealth’s Delegate to Congress, introduced two bills, H.R. 1189 and H.R. 5436, to repeal the animal fighting ban, but it has attracted not a single supporter from House or Senate lawmakers, except the Delegates from the other territories.
The letter sent to the Governor was signed by Animal Wellness Action founder Wayne Pacelle and Puerto Rican animal law attorney Ana María Hernández Martí, and there are Spanish-language and English-language versions.
Citizens can send tips and other information to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The reward program is also mentioned on www.endcockfighting.org, which serves as a comprehensive resource about the issue and call citizens to action to help.