After two years on hiatus due to the pandemic, this Sunday the march for the end of violence against animals could not be held in Havana either. Threats from the political police and an extensive operation prevented the pilgrimage from leaving from El Quijote Park in El Vedado, although some activists reached the Colón Cemetery.
“In 23 and F we cannot be as it was known,” the activist Javier Larrea denounced on his Facebook account. In the image that accompanies his publication, about eight people are seen accompanied by their pets. “Today is the Day of the Dog. We are not going to stop celebrating it,” he pointed out and announced that they were going to the Cemetery.
This newspaper was able to verify that a strong operation of uniformed and State Security agents dressed in civilian clothes was deployed from early hours around the park, normally crowded and where a bus stop is located. At ten o’clock in the morning the place was strangely empty and only one stray dog had managed to get past the fence.
“They are everywhere, even pretending to be customers of the ATM that is in a nearby bank,” lamented a young protector who tried to get to the place but finally gave up. The animalist, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, was afraid “to take out the phone because they were watching everyone who passed by.”
The activists denounced the mismanagement with the sale of animal feed, the pressure on the protectors by the authorities and the ineffectiveness of the animal welfare legislation.
Once in the Cemetery, almost a hundred activists gathered around the grave of Jeannette Ryder, an American philanthropist who founded a humanitarian organization, the Society for the Protection of Children, Animals and Plants, also known as Bando de Piedad. April 11 is considered Dog Day in Cuba because it is the day Ryder died.
There, the activists denounced the mismanagement with the sale of animal feed, the pressure on the protectors by the authorities and the ineffectiveness of the animal welfare legislation. “We have not perished from hunger or fatigue, we are going to continue,” denounced one of the animal activists. Others pointed to the police harassment around the march and demanded to be heard by Miguel Díaz-Canel.
A few minutes later, the director of the Cemetery appeared and appealed that it was “a sacred place” and that they should leave the premises to make room for other families. The place was also attended by a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Government of the Cuban capital. “We already did what we came to do. Long live the animals,” the protectors shouted before leaving.
Since February 2021, the Animal Welfare decree-law was approved, a legislation that did not exist in the country until then and has been demanded for years by activists and organizations that defend animals. However, animal activists lament that the legislation has hardly been applied and is so far “a dead letter”.
In the hours prior to the call for this Sunday, several activists denounced threats from State Security to prevent them from participating in the march. Betty Batista Romero denounced through Facebook that this Saturday at 10:30 pm she was visited at her house by two officials from the Ministry of the Interior.
“They came to ask me what I will do tomorrow. I would love to participate in the pilgrimage and raise my voice against animal abuse”
“They came to ask me what I will do tomorrow. I would love to participate in the pilgrimage and raise my voice against animal abuse.” Batista had previously been summoned and threatened with being prosecuted for the crime of “sedition” if she maintained her idea of joining the animal pilgrimage.
Since the social outbreak of July 11, the Cuban authorities have redoubled the police presence in the streets and tightened the fence around activists, opponents and independent journalists. This Sunday’s march was the first independent public call since the frustrated Civic March of November 15 that resulted in several arrests.
Javier Larrea, founder of Animal Welfare Cuba (BAC), was also summoned by the police who assured him that this Sunday’s march was illegal. Larrea reported on social networks the harassment of which he was being a victim and tried to request a permit for the pilgrimage from the provincial government of Havana, but the authorities denied that possibility.
Moment in which the director of the Colón Cemetery tries to dissolve the meeting of animalists around the tomb of the philanthropist and protector, Jeannette Ryder, who is a benchmark of the movement in #Cuba. The official asked them to leave that “sacred place”. pic.twitter.com/LFlqOtwSGx
— 14ymedio (@14ymedio) April 10, 2022
This year the march was not only overshadowed by repression but also by an act of extreme cruelty against a cat, which occurred at the Havana Rodeo last Friday. The images of the feline being shaken and beaten to death in the middle of a show in which clowns and rodeo contestants participate, has caused great outrage among animal lovers.
Other animal rights activists reported operations around their homes and interruption of the web browsing service from their mobile phones hours before the start of the march.
complaints forced the Ministry of Agriculture to publish a note in which it declares its total disagreement with the “unfortunate fact” of animal abuse that occurred at the Fiagrop 2022 International Food Agroindustrial Fair. A few hours later, the state entity detailed that a “fine in the amount of 3,000 Cuban pesos to the two artists involved and fines of 1,500 pesos to the athletes responsible for the act”, a sanction that fueled criticism among the protectors who expected more severe punishments.
Other animal activists reported operations around their homes and a cut in the web browsing service from their mobile phones hours before the start of the march.
In 2019, a crowd with banners, t-shirts with the symbol of an orange bow, and some participants who brought their dogs walked along 25th Street in El Vedado, from Quijote Park to the Colón Cemetery. The walk against animal abuse was the first independent march, in the last half century, in which carrying signs was allowed.
Initially, the pilgrimage had been called by animal protectors and lovers and was going to go through the central 23rd street, but at the last minute the organizers announced that they would go to the parallel 25th street, less crowded.
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