Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez signed a bill authorizing cockfighting Wednesday, ignoring the federal ban that goes into effect on Friday.
The island wants to protect its 400-year-old tradition of forcing male chickens to fight. The U.S. territory of 3.2 million people has 71 cockfighting establishments in 45 cities licensed by the island’s Department of Sports and Recreation.
Officials estimate the industry generates $18 million a year and employs around 27.000 people. Jobs range from judges to technicians who clean gamecocks.
While cockfighters and government officials in Puerto Rico celebrated the defiance of the federal ban, animal activists like Wayne Pacelle, founder of the Washington-based Animal Wellness Action, felt bad about the move.
Pacelle said he believes the estimate of cockfighting’s economic impact for Puerto Rico is inflated and dismisses arguments that the activity is a tradition for the island.
“Just because people are enthusiastic about their sport does not mean it’s part of their culture,” he said. “There is something gratuitous about cockfighting that offends the sensibilities of people.”
PETA Latino also rejected the governor’s move, saying it defied modern standards of ethics and compassion. The group accused local government officials of protecting a cruel industry.
Some Puerto Rico legislators believe the fight over the island’s effort to avoid the federal ban will end up in court.
And many cockfighting enthusiasts insist a ban would only drive events underground again.