Cuba approves first animal welfare law after public pressure

Animal rights activist Gilda Arencibia feeds a stray dog in Havana, photo: Reuters/Alexandre Meneghini
Animal rights activist Gilda Arencibia feeds a stray dog in Havana, photo: Reuters/Alexandre Meneghini

Cuba has approved a long called-for law on animal welfare, a groundbreaking victory for animal rights activists in the communist nation. The law aims to prevent cruelty and raise awareness about the need to protect animals.

Late Friday, the Council of State approved the legislation, which contains fines and potential prison terms for animal abusers. It comes into force 90 days after its official publication.

“Cuba was one of the few countries in Latin America that didn’t have an animal welfare law, so to have one now is an immense joy,” Fernando Gispert, president of the Havana branch of the Cuban Association of Veterinary Medicine, told Reuters. 

For decades, animal rights activists have called for legislation on animal welfare. In recent years, a younger generation put pressure on authorities with marches, protests in public spaces and social media campaigns about the need for an animal welfare law.

“This has set an example for all communities that want their voice to be heard,” said Beatriz Batista, 23, who has become one of the leaders of the movement. “You have to pressure, pressure.”

The growing voice of animal rights activists has led to a boost of citizen initiatives to rescue and sterilize stray animals and to clean the coasts and river beds of the remains of animal sacrifices.

Cuba’s streets are also full of dogs and cats in a poor state. The lucky ones are picked up by individuals or people from animal welfare groups, who sometimes go hungry to feed the stray animals.

Dog-fighting and cock-fighting are expected to be outlawed, but ritual animal sacrifices common in Santeria, widespread across the island of 11 million, are not. 

The ministry said in a statement on its website that sacrifices would still be allowed, but they would have to be done in a “compassionate and rapid manner, avoiding pain and stress”.

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