Mexico and Animal Rights

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Mexico and Animal Rights

Gerardo Tristan and Ana Sofia Ponce Partida of GEPDA (Gente por la Defensa Animal) in Mexico interview with Claudette Vaughan on Abolitionist-Online
January 2010

In my country the animal liberation movement is almost unknown and the suffering and exploitation of animals is a common scene.” Mexico has small grassroots campaigns in existence.

The First International Summit for the Welfare of Domestic Animals took place in Mexico last year. The event was billed as the “kickoff of the animal liberation movement in Mexico.” Gerardo Tristan, an Aztec Indian-Mexican animal rights activist is the fundraising co-coordinator of the animal rights group People For Animal Defense. He says, “In my country the animal liberation movement is almost unknown and the suffering and exploitation of animals is a common scene.” Mexico has small grassroots campaigns in existence.

Ana Sofia Ponce Partida has studied veterinary medicine, graduating a year and a half ago and has been working in animal rights since 2000. Currently she is the national contact assistant for InterNICHE and collaborates in the newsletter of AVAR, Alternatives, writing and translating the issues for Mexican Veterinary Universities. She’s working on humane education, alternatives to animal use and bioethics, and recently organised the "1st International Session on Progressive Education in the Life Sciences" in Mexico, dealing with issues like animals and ethics, animal use in education, holistic and humane education and nonhuman alternatives.

Abolitionist: Tell us about the National Coalition for the Welfare of Animals. Why was it formed, what is its expectations and how many organizations are involved and what range of animals does it cover?

Gerardo: It occurred to me that in Mexico we never have had an animal rights conference so I decided to make the first move and test the waters to see if I could make folks interested about the idea and allow people to organize, meet and network. You see, in Mexico activists are few and far apart. We are very isolated from each other and from the international animal right movement perspective even to locate people is a challenge but after researching and sending out many e-mails, I got quite a lot of interest in the idea of making this a memorable conference. During our preparation stage the idea was born to form a national coalition.

We were very happy and exited with this idea and with our work putting together the conference itself. I am pleased to report that despite a very poor budget of around $ 2.000 U.S dollars we pull off an excellent conference with a turn out of more than 300 people from around the whole country attending it!

It was a great event, you could see that people was thirsty for knowledge, ideas, support and just for the opportunity to meet other activists. It went great! It is funny because even though the conference was on domestic animals, it turn out to be a conference on all topics pertaining to animal rights since the majority of speakers and issues focused on animal rights issues. About the Coalition, unfortunately, it never got off the ground. The main problem was that the door was wide open and many groups and individuals joined in but as a result it generated chaos since there were lots of concerns, priorities and people burnt out really fast. Also, the groups that wanted to be part of the Coalition were very different and diverse; If you put a very conservative animal welfare group with a more radical abolitionist group you are asking for trouble. Basically the scope got too broad and things got very chaotic. However, it was a first try. There’ll be more.

Abolitionist: How did the Conference on homeless animals go, what was discussed and what was resolved?

Gerardo: As I said before, this was the very first time that any kind of conference for the animals was held in Mexico. Actually it was held in Monterrey, the second largest city and also the industrial capital of the country. I think that AR/AW groups were hungry for information, networking, assurance and support. People at the conference all wanted to learn about so many issues! Basically the Conference on domestic animals turned into a catharsis for all kinds of concerns regarding animal rights in Mexico. I think there was an overwhelming feeling of marginalization. People realised how fragmented, disorganised and isolated we are within the movement both from within the country and also on an international level. We feel (and still feel) that we are kind of left out of the animal rights international movement. There was no agreement reached or things resolved; The only thing we all agreed on was the necessity of joining forces and on the compromise of having a meeting exclusively to start a national coalition which was held in central Mexico.

Aboloitionist: Does Mexico have a stray homeless cats and dog problem?

Gerardo: Like any Latin-American country we have a huge dog and cat overpopulation problem. More than 3 million dogs and 5 million cats are killed in the country each year. There is not an accurate statistic on the numbers and we know that a great number of companion animals on the streets of Mexico are killed each year. I think we face a huge cultural and economical problem.

One think we lack is good leadership within the welfare movement to solve this problem. I do believe that this problem can be solved with the help of the government and at this time the government is very susceptible to international pressure but unfortunately we do not yet have enough support internationally, but we need to be smart enough to generate it so we can really start to make progress and initiate a real cultural revolution in Mexico.

Ana Sofia: Yes, that’s right. We have a very severe homeless dog and cat problem in Mexico. It is very common to see stray animals (dogs and cats) practically everywhere. In the marginal zones the problem is even worse than in the National territory. In general there is basically no education or consciousness when it comes to responsible pet ownership with illegal breeding takes place at an alarming rate, and really, everyone who chooses to, can breed and sell dogs and/or cats.

Joined to these issues there is no education on the responsible keeping of animals anywhere in the country. Owners (and I only use this term because they are certainly not guardians) dispose of their animals with ease because they can’t afford a dog or cat anymore, or because the animal grew up and was too much trouble to keep, or simply because they got tired of their “pet”. It is very usual for owners to throw the animals into the street but sometimes they will call an animal protection society to get rid of the dog or cat. Such are the conditions we are facing.

Abolitionist: What happens to a cat or dog when confiscated by authorities?

Gerardo: They are sent to an overcrowded, understaffed and filthy pound then killed.

Ana: Animals are rarely confiscated from homes, even in the worst cases of animal cruelty. A truck usually travels around the city picking up stray animals as they find them.

In some cases people call the pounds when there are too many stray dogs or cats around their neighborhood.

Then they are taken into the Center for the Control of Animals or “pounds” and they stay there from two to three days, and if the animals are not claimed by the owner, then they’re killed.

Abolitionist: How are they killed?

Gerardo: They are electrocuted, hanged, gassed, drowned or stoned depending on where in Mexico the killing takes place. Also, animals are left out on the streets to die from all kinds of sicknesses, hunger and thirst.

Ana: It depends on the State, sometimes they are killed by electrocution, and in other cases an overdose of anesthesia is applied. In general (whatever the killing method) the condition of the animals while spending time in these centers (while waiting to be killed) is horrifying. Animals are generally mixed up, males with females, pregnant females, puppies, aggressive animals etc. All animals are usually mixed up, so fights break out, females giving birth, already dying animals dying in the cages etc., are common scenes.

Abolitionist: What has been the publics’ reaction to animal rights in Mexico?

Gerardo: Mexican people have not yet understood our cause because they don’t know it. There are lots of reasons for that disconnection between animal rights people and citizens, for example, poverty adds to economical problems and the fact that culture, education, religion and the interests of the people in general people make their lives away from exploited non human animals as it benefits people not to know what’s going on. In short, animal rights and animal welfare haven’t yet made a big impact in Mexico yet.

Ana: People’s reaction has been so far skeptical at best but there’s improvement in the air. More people (especially young people) are interested in the topic and in a few cases, animal rights are taken more seriously, but in general speciesism rules public opinion. Not only for “pets”, but for animals in the food and clothing industry, laboratory animals and the so called “entertainment” animals. Animals are considered inferior beings, and therefore, according to most people in Mexico, don’t deserve any kind of rights. A lot of people still laugh at loud at the idea of considering animal rights in Mexico.

Abolitionist: Has bullrings closed because of the efforts of animal activists?

Gerardo: Bullfighting is present in the main cities and has been historically promoted and portrayed as a “Spanish” thing so it is a status symbol and class statement. The most important bullfight arenas are in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey where the rich and powerful can attend and be seen. Your average Mexican does not go to the bullfight or cares about it one way or the other. Your average Mexican is an Indian descendent or a mixed blood, which is in itself very interesting to me and it might shed some light on possible strategies and campaigns against bullfighting in Mexico in the future.

Basically bullfighting represents the worst of the European conquest and is a very clear racial and class statement. The people that attend these doings basically are saying that they are of European blood and not so much (or none at all) of Indian blood. And although this is not said it is pretty much in peoples’ minds while attending a bullfight. Also they are saying that they are powerful, successful and decent…

I would love to talk more with folks in Europe campaigning against bullfighting and asking them about the possibility of joining forces with us in Mexico. I think that my group, GEPDA (People for Animal Defense) would be very happy to join forces with the European campaigners; together we might create a powerful campaign against bullfighting; I think it is time to really be a global citizen for animal rights, folks. I mean, it would be interesting to open a dialogue between say, Spanish animal rights campaigning against bullfighting and Mexican ones and see what kind of ideas or strategies come out from such an alliance, don’t you think?

I’ve tried to get in touch with others on this issues but so far haven’t been lucky.

There are some groups campaigning against bullfighting but they haven’t had much influence on the issue since they just focus on the suffering of the bull, which is very valid but also we need to link issues of racism, sexism and classism, in order to make people see bullfighting for what it is.

Ana: There is a strong fight to abolish bullfighting in Mexico, however there are still a lot of powerful people, like politicians for example, who are very keen to keep bullfighting going. Campaigns are created against bull-fighting, even right outside the bullfighting arenas. It is prevalent, but I would dare to say that in general people are starting to wake up to the fact of how brutal and wrong bullfighting is. I was interviewed a few months ago on the radio, we were talking about bullfighting, and 90% of the people that called in to the program were against it. When protests and actions take place, it is very common for police to repress activists, but then again, it’s hard to get anything for animals.

Abolitionist: Are there rodeos in Mexico?

Gerardo: We have very few but mainly we have them in central and north Mexico They are a Fairground attraction so they are seasonal. They travel form town to town for the local festivities. Is a popular thing but not as popular as in the U.S. The most popular places for rodeos are Guadalajara and Monterrey. Monterrey is a city that strives to copy the American way of life.

Abolitionist: Any direct action is being done in Mexico?

Abolitionist: Hardly any. The direct actions, that I know of, have mainly been done to save domestic animals, mainly dogs and cats.

Ana: Activism itself takes place in Mexico. For example, there are more vegans and vegetarians than a few years back. Still, the real issue I think, is of perception and attitude towards the planet we live in. It is a problem beyond “pets” and beyond “rodeos”, our attitude needs to be completely changed in order to value and respect life for what it is. There are an increasing number of animal associations for example, but national coordination needs to be implemented in order for joint efforts and working in a more integral and directed way than is now the case.

Abolitionist: Are there any laws in Mexico to cover any animals at all?

Ana: Yes, there are state animal protection laws; but no federal animal protection law. The problem relies on the fact that there are not competent organisms to reinforce or apply these laws. The law by itself isn’t really that effective, I mean, domination and animal cruelty is still considered “ok” depending on the justification: are there humans going to benefit?, is there money made? Etc. So, law or no law, people can do pretty much anything they want to animals. Some people are still fighting to make the law applicable, and in some isolated cases there has been some success in processing the “crime”, but this is not the general case yet.

Abolitionist: What about native Mexican animals?

Ana: Yes, there are endangered species in Mexico, including the manatee, the black bear, some species of marine turtles, the blue whale, the red guacamaya and the Mexican wolf among others. In the specific case of the marine turtles, for example, the law isn’t that effective. In spite of all the conservational camps the demand for turtles eggs prevails and business is still taking place in exploiting marine turtles. Stronger campaigns should be made to discourage the public to buy turtle meat and eggs.

Abolitionist: There are many fine anti-globalization activists in Mexico to stop being eaten alive by corporatism. How does this impact animals and animal activists?

Gerardo: As I mentioned early, there is a lot of isolation among animal activists and also a serious disconnection and lack of presence of animal activists on important social issues here. You have to consider that in Mexico animal activists are usually well off people or at least people of certain background so there is a lack of grass roots efforts and alliances. Other social movements are viewed with suspicion among animal activists.

Ana: Yes, there are, and in many cases the link between globalization and animal rights is clear to activists. Yet, repression is the order of the day, so the impact can’t be felt quite strongly yet. Many anti-globalization activists are vegan or vegetarian and among young people the connection between issues is being made more easily. Even though the impact isn’t that strong yet on the animal condition, it will be. Other movements support our movement and the connection between responsible consumerism and animals has a definite impact on young people consuming who are listening to the message to eat less animal products and buy more fair trade foods.

Abolitionist: Are there factory farms in Mexico?

Gerardo: Yes, mainly egg and chickens farms. Other types of factory farms are not very big and powerful in Mexico like say in the U.S.

Ana: During my education as a veterinarian I realized most teaching is aimed towards animal production: pigs, cows, poultry etc. The university where I studied also offers the careers of biology and agronomy. I remember thinking how incongruent it was to teach on one hand veterinarians how to produce animals massively and on the other hand teach biologists about ecology and preservation of ecosystems etc. In all factory farms and slaughter houses in Mexico, animals live in a very poor environment, suffering from confinement, terrible installations, no sun light and animals turn to cannibalism because of the much reduced spaces and the high numbers of animals crammed together. This is the typical life of a factory farm animal almost everywhere; but included into this equation is Mexico’s extreme cruelty and very poor sanitary conditions.

Abolitionist: Is there are relationship between the religiosity of its people and their attitudes to animals at all?

Gerardo: The church in Mexico totally ignores the plight of animals and they bless all kinds of exploitation since they support the upper class. So is not a surprise that animal’s suffering is invisible for the many Mexicans.

Ana: Totally, in Mexico people are mainly Catholics and a lot of religious traditions involve the harming of animals. In small towns it is very common to cut the throats of goats and poultry in the name of religious tradition. There are other practices more commonly known as “santeria” (more common that you would think) and animals are also harmed or killed for “magic” purposes. In general I believe Mexico has been impacted by religion negatively when it comes to the treatment of animals. Most people in Mexico believe animals are meant for humans to use and abuse, just because the bible says so.

Abolitionist: What does the future hold for your group Gerardo and for you Ana Sofia?

Gerardo: I would like to contribute towards a truly International Animal Liberation Movement by promoting an ongoing conversation among Mexican and international abolitionist activists. I believe this conversation is long overdue and it will help to cement current theoretical ideas and frameworks that sustain the movement and more importantly, it will help to energize direct action.

Here is a practical example:

There had been big International efforts to abolish Bullfighting here. We all know that the main campaigns and efforts are in Spain for obvious reasons.

Talking with some activists in one conference they were surprised that bullfighting continues to be a VERY racist "sport". Historically, bullfighting was for the "pure blooded Spaniards" in Mexico and it became with time a place for the white, the rich and the powerful elite". I know that Indians (like myself) were and still NOT very welcomed at the bullfight ring YET is it a surprises that this elements as well as sexism and classism, has not yet been incorporated into any international anti-bullfighting campaigns. Perhaps if more Latin American grassroots activists were involved (for example women and Indians), this would make a difference. This is just one small example on how more international collaboration and dialogue among animal activist folks could be beneficial.

As an AR activist, I have three main goals for Mexico:

  1. Promote and highlight AR individuals and efforts on the country as well as international level in order to end self-marginalization and the international invisibility of Mexico.
  2. Promote dialogue and collaboration among AR/AW activists in Mexico with other social (especially grassroots movements). I am thinking here of AR and EZLN for example.
  3. Promote and encourage international collaboration and expertise on major national issues.

These goals stem form my experience abroad. I have been an AR activist for the past 5 years. I have lived in U.S since I became an abolitionist and have tried to bring attention to the plight of animals and the great necessity of support AR groups needed from the counterparts North the border...but have had very little success on this.. so after thinking a lot about this issues; I decided that something needed to be done.

I hope this interview start to build bridges among AR activist and groups across the globe as well as help to start the conversation on why, how, etc... we should and can help each other in the great fight against the oppression of non human animals which is intimately related to the oppression of human animals. I would love to hear what other AR activists across the globe have to say (especially non white, non privileged AR folks) on how they perceive the Animal Liberation movement on such issues like lack of international solidarity and support, Lack of plurality, Privileging first world AR concerns on the AR agenda, an so on..

For the past two years I have been talking and encouraging people in Mexico to start animal important AR initiatives. People always told me that they fear they were weak for such efforts and that they also that they feel isolated and invisible from the whole AR picture... but I have been successful and some of these folks actually have started very important initiatives..

I guess one of the problems people run into when trying to support international efforts is the lack of information and the lack of trust worthy sources to rely on. That's why I am in the process of putting together as much information as possible, not just on the plight of animals in my country but also on who is there and is who is worthy of support. I have not just relied on the internet or long distance conversations but rather I have spend a great deal of physical time with the groups/ individuals I will highlight on my web page..

Also, I think that AR is highly disconnected from other movements and relevant societal problems. That’s because we are putting animal exploitation in a box, separated from other important issues. I also believe that the movement (like many western movements) does not look for a more holistic approach while looking for ways to develop philosophy, working on campaigns or doing individual activism. That’s a very serious problem for many Western (white) movements and we are losing people and possible supporters and allies because this structural problem. That’s why I am interested in the idea of making connections among activists of all stripes and linking issues that are already intimately related to our struggle. I would love to see in the future a much more holistic and global AR movement and therefore a stronger presence on the world. Let me give you a concrete example of what I am talking about :

I just came back from a peace rally held in Columbus G.A. The event had more that 10,000 pacifists from all over the U.S. A small group (4 people) of AR activist decided that was important to be present on this event and went to the rally. We sat a table and gave literature to pacifists and it was a huge success! Lots of people came to the table, took literature and asked many questions about animal rights and how to become vegan. There was great and genuine interest among pacifist folks on these important issues and we did not have enough time to talk to each person as we would have wished because we were overwhelmed by having so many arrive at the same time. I am really surprised that NO animal rights group or individual has ever showed up to this event until yesterday. This protest has being going on for 18 years! Instead animal rights groups do their “own” events almost all animal rights people showing up and participating. I am wandering why? Do we think that it is better to do our own thing instead of really reaching out the crowds and making an impact in society? Or do we just want to preach to the converted? That’s why I think is URGENT to start this discussion on the necessity of building bridges among movements and becoming truly global.

Ana: I personally believe that people shouldn’t have pets at all. It is still domination and slavery, and as long as the “pet industry” profits with animals, dogs and cats will die: in the pounds, run over on the streets, poisoned etc.

I have chosen education to try to make a difference and I have been working for a while in the implementation of alternatives to the harmful use of animals in higher education. I’m hoping to get a formal job at the university where I studied, working in the creation and development of a center for animal alternatives and the achievement of the implementation of the course of Bioethics. Mexico isn’t that different to the rest of the world when it comes to our attitude towards animals. I truly think that the condition of animals rely on the human condition, and the human condition needs to be examined, questioned and revalued in order to arrive to a healthier relationship with the world and all its inhabitants.

Abolitionist: Any last thoughts?

Gerardo: I would love to hear the opinion of other animal rights activists on the issues mentioned above. Please share your experience and ideas on these and other important issues!

Gerardo Tristan can be contacted by email.

Ana Sofia Ponce Partida can be contacted by email.