Plaskett Defends V.I. Cockfighting

The sign for the Estate Glynn cockfighting arena. (Bill Kossler photo)

After several past efforts, it looks like cockfighting is now banned throughout the United States, including the territories, as of December 20, but not without opposition both here in the USVI and over in neighboring Puerto Rico. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, a very large federal funding and regulator measure, contains provisions banning the practice that take effect shortly.

Delegate Stacey Plaskett, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, released a statement Thursday opposing the change and wrote to U.S. Attorney for the District of the Virgin Islands Gretchen Shappert.

“Cockfighting, like horse racing, is a long-standing recreational activity in the U.S. Virgin Islands with historical and cultural significance to many Virgin Islanders. I do not support banning cockfighting in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Plaskett wrote. She said she wrote Shappert “asking what her intentions are regarding enforcement actions and if the Virgin Islands has made any announcement to the people of the Virgin Islands regarding the prohibition of cockfighting and her position on the issue.”

“I understand the concerns of those opposed to cockfighting and believe regulatory processes and educational outreach provide the best means of addressing those concerns. Outlawing cockfighting in the Virgin Islands will only create an underground industry, which can prove problematic for local stakeholders and local law enforcement,” Plaskett wrote, echoing her past statements to Congress and the press on this topic.

Cockfighting has a long history in Puerto Rico and some latin communities in the USA but has fallen out of cultural favor for much of the country.

Cockfighting has been a tradition on St. Croix for many years and there are legal, licensed and regulated fights. It has long been controversial, with both passionate advocates and opponents squaring off. The one remaining licensed facility is in Estate Glynn on St. Croix.

When Congress considered a similar measure in 2014, then-Delegate Donna Christensen took a nuanced approach, seeking more information.

“I have lived in St. Croix pretty much all my life, since about three months, and my father raised fighting cocks as well as being a lawyer and a judge,” Christensen said. “It’s very much a part of the culture and isn’t something that easily changes. So there will be very strong advocates to have it continue and I know the animal rights activists will have the exact opposite position,” she said in 2014.

That same year, Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, who is retiring from the Legislature this year, made an impassioned plea to ban cockfighting in the territory. In a V.I. senate hearing, she quoted the famed late labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, saying: “Kindness and compassion towards all living things is a mark of a civilized society. Conversely, cruelty, whether it is directed against human beings or against animals, is not the exclusive province of any one culture or community of people.”

Puerto Rico is taking a more directly confrontational approach. The Associated Press reports it just adopted a law to keep cockfighting alive in direct contravention of the federal law.

Puerto Rico territorial representatives say the industry generates $18 million a year and employs some 27,000 people at 71 different cockfighting establishments.