14ymedio, Havana, 22 October 2020 — Miguel Diaz-Canel’s visit to Santa Clara has once again been preceded by a massive round up of stray dogs, and with it, the repression of those animal welfare advocates who denounced the situation on social networks.
Musician and activist Omar Mena was arrested this Thursday, according to Leidy Laura Hernandez, one of the most well known advocates in Santa Clara. “They put him in the patrol car, and we don’t know anything else about him,” she said through instant messaging. “As our house woke up under siege by State Security, he went out through the backyard and managed to get to where the dogs were, there was a patrol car there, and it took him away.”
Hernandez had complained a little earlier that, from the early hours of the day, their homes were under a heavy police operation to prevent them from going out into the street. “They treat us like criminals and violate our rights,” posted the activist, who also runs a shelter in her own house.
In order to clean up the areas through which the presidential caravan will travel, the local authorities touched up facades, emptied trash containers, and took away the stray animals. “Zoonosis [animal control] rounded up dogs today (Wednesday) in Santa Clara on the eve of the visit by President Miguel Diaz-Canel,” posted the city’s Animal Rescue Group, an independent organization that supports animal rescues, sterilizations, shelters, and adoptions and that campaigns to sensitize people about animal rights.
“We discovered that they have them in kennels behind the medical school, we have photos of them all, and we’re not going to let anything happen to them,” announced the activists, who plan to rescue the dogs this Thursday. “They are many, and we need the help and cooperation of everyone, these innocents don’t know that they are on the brink of death. This is our opportunity to save them, and together we can.”
Hernandez clarified that in spite of the police operation, she had managed to leave her house and that the animal rescue operation was still on as planned. “There are 18 puppies in cages and nine more arrived at that time. Nothing can happen to them,” she emphasized.
The repression against them happened a few hours after the news media included the animal rights cause as a recipient of funds from the United States for “subversion.”
“Racism, religious freedom, animal protection, sexual rights, gender violence, and other matters of interest in current Cuban society are the object of financial campaigns from Washington with the objective of discrediting the Revolution,” the official site Cubadebate posted this Wednesday.
During the week, animal rights activists from several parts of the country have accused the state agency Zoonosis of a massive round up and slaughter of stray dogs that is going on in several provinces because of the visit by the Cuban leader, his first tour of the Island since the pandemic restrictions bagan.
A similar operation was carried out in advance of the 500-year celebration of the city and the visit of the kings of Spain, when Havana rounded up dozens of stray dogs that were slaughtered. That incident provoked, in the following days, many protests by animal rights acitivists and meetings with authorities who last November agreed not to kill anymore stray animals.
It was not the first time that the animal rights activists protested in Cuba. In April 2019, a march travelled several Havana streets in order to demand the end of animal abuse and the approval of a law that protects them. It was the first independent protest of the last half century that was allowed to carry posters.
In 2007, the National Veterinary Medicine Institute reported that in Cuba the “controlled canine mass” was more than 2 million and that of cats 500,000, but the data have not been updated since then, and the National Directorate of Hygiene and Epidemiology estimates that there is one dog for every ten people, some 200,000 in Havana.
Currently, authorities are debating an animal welfare law that is expected to address the rights and duties of citizens with respect to animals, as well as legal punishments for those who do not comply, as Maria Gloria Vidal Rivalta, president of the National Committee for Animal Welfare of Cuba, recently asserted.
The proposed legislation protects domestic, aquatic, and working animals in areas of education, sports, and biomedical research. But the activists fear that it will become a dead letter or that it will not cover the greater part of demands made by the movement throughout the years.
Translated by Mary Lou Keel
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