14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 April 2019 — Minutes before starting they were just a few, but more people were joining, coming by foot, by bike, and many of them with their pets. The unusual caravan brought together some 500 participants on Sunday who, in the streets of Havana, demanded an end the the violence against animals and the approval of an Animal Protection Law.
A crowd with banners, T-shirts with the symbol of an orange bow and with some participants who brought their dogs, marched this Sunday along 25th Street in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, from Quijote Park to Colón Cemetery. The walk against animal abuse was the first independent march in the last half century where people were allowed to carry posters.
Initially, the pilgrimage called by animal protectors and lovers was going to cross 23rd street downtown, but at the last minute the organizers announced that they would use the parallel and less crowded 25th Street.
A small group managed to repeat for a few minutes “Animal protection law now!” but immediately several people – carrying neither signs nor orange ribbons – called on them not to shout if they wanted to continue marching. Despite the warning on the road other participants kept repeating phrases such as “ meow meow meow, bow wow wow,” and the call, “No to animal abuse.”
Promoters of the gathering, along with uniformed National Revolutionary Police (PNR) stopped vehicle traffic to make way for the march, during which there was also the obvious presence of State Security personnel, dressed in civilian clothes, who had previously warned independent journalists and activists not to attend.
There were also people from other provinces and tourists who joined the walk that lasted just over an hour and traveled a mile. From some balconies and doorways, the neighbors of 25th Street also supported the marchers with words of encouragement and offered containers with water for the animals.
Arriving at the Colón Cemetery, the crowd fell silent and stood in front of the tomb of Jeannette Ryder, an American philanthropist who resided on the island at the beginning of the last century and founded a humanitarian organization, the Protective Society for Children, Plants and Animals, known as Bando de Piedad (The Mercy Society).
Several of the protectors of the organizers of the walk made brief speeches around Ryder’s gravesite. Among them were Beatriz Carmen Hidalgo-Gato Batista, who expressed her emotion for “the magnitude” of the response to the call to march. The 21-year-old student of social communication has 16 dogs and 7 cats under her care.
Being a “protector of animals in Cuba is to confront daily the overpopulation of malnourished animals, the abuse, murder, sadism and torture suffered by strays and not strays (…) is to become a lawyer and demand legislation or a decree that protect them,” Hidalgo-Gato read.
To which she added that her activism in favor of these creatures leads her to “deal with the ignorant and not ignorant who have who have a little bit of power and that in less than you imagine or you disappear animals that you are protecting or call the dogcatcher.”
At the end of the walk, in statements to 14ymedio , Hidalgo-Gato said she was happy about the outcome of the march and considered that this Sunday “will mark a before and after in the fight against animal abuse in Cuba” and possibly lead to the acceptance of an animal welfare law.
“We have already started here, it is the first authorized march with awareness posters, and in the process we are demanding that they approve an animal welfare law that educates and punishes people who commit crimes and abuse against them,” she added.
“I participated in last year’s march, it was called by Aniplant, starting from Coppelia to here but it was less than 20 or 30 people. Maybe people feel more identified when we do not divide by breeds or names and simply summon lovers and protectors of animals, and also social networks had an effect,” she said.
The call to the march was widely shared on Facebook and Twitter by those who were left with a bitter taste after animal protection was one of the topics proposed in the debates of the constitutional draft, but finally not included in the text submitted to a referendum this past February 24.
Hidalgo-Gato believes that this year the social networks allowed “sharing in real time” what is happening because “information is power. “ She also believes that what happened today is important because it “opens doors” and maybe next year they can “celebrate with a law” of animal welfare and protection.
Another of the protectors that arrived at the walk was Milagro González, a veteran of the cause. “I am here to advocate for a law that stops animal abuse in our country which is greatly needed, because we see a lot of abuse here. We are holding this march so that these voices can be heard and heard throughout the world and that here in Cuba the law is approved.”
This animal protector was marching with Negrita, a puppy run over on Monte Street and abandoned by the driver who ran over her. “It’s a pity that the abuse goes unpunished in our country, I picked her up and after several surgeries she’s fine,” she said. For her “this activity is a step forward in the pursuit of animal protection” and she hopes that it “moves mountains.”
“We are not going to shut up, we are the voices of those who can not speak,” Milagros said.
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