By Desmond Boylan

In Cuba, it is legal to own fighting cocks, it is legal to train them, and it is legal to put them to fight, but one detail –  all forms of betting and gambling are strictly forbidden since 1959, when the Cuban Revolution started.  And the sole reason to fight cocks is to bet on them. It is an activity so popular among Cubans that stopping it would pose a huge challenge for the authorities and would be counterproductive.

I spoke to a man named Yurien, who said, “President Raul likes cockfighting, our commanders Ramiro and Guillermo also like it, and we like it. Cockfighting is a part of Cuba so we do it with order and discipline. It is unstoppable. There are also a few legal arenas set up by the state, and even in those betting exists, but in a quiet and discreet way.”

The most impressive site used for illegal cockfighting I visited was a military anti-aircraft shelter built into the side of a hill on the outskirts of a Cuban city, reachable after a short trek through thick bush. It struck me as a place in the middle of nowhere. The site was full of people enjoying an afternoon with their favorite pastime, cockfighting. As I arrived a man quickly came over with the entry tickets, in a highly organized manner. The fights were on and the cocks were safe, very safe, in the shade of the underground bunker.

When I was leaving the bunker I met a boy carrying his injured fighting cock through the bush. His bird had lost the fight that day and he was sad. He said, “We will be back to win. I will cure my bird, and he will be back, even if now he only has one eye.”

To reach the fight arena you have to know exactly where you are going, and when the fights are to take place. There are not signs, no announcements. This site and others are always concealed and hidden away down a dirt road lane and in the bush on the outskirts any Cuban city. Curiously, the steep paths or the bits of the lane on which car wheels skid in mud when it rains, are paved, yes, paved with asphalt. Money has been invested to ensure that participants and spectators make it to the site even if it rains.