Cuba approves animal rights law after activists' campaign

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Havana (AFP)

Cuba has adopted long-called for animal rights regulations, a groundbreaking victory for activists in the communist nation.

It's an important step for a civil society marveling at its demands being translated into law for the first time, and signals a cultural shift on an island of contradictions between tradition and modernity.

Late Friday, the Council of State approved the legislation, which provides for fines and potential prison terms for offenders. It comes into force 90 days after its official publication.

"I am very pleased that today we have woken up to this news. Because it will put a stop to abuse in the first place and secondly, it will give power to animal rights activists," Ricardo Santana, a 24-year-old photographer, told AFP.

In April, 2019, some 500 people marched through Havana to demand a law protecting animals -- it was the first independent and non-political demonstration authorized by the one-party state.

In recent years, many people in Havana have embraced having house pets -- despite the fact that pet food and medicines, mostly imported, are out of the reach of many.

Cuba's streets are also full of dogs and cats in a poor state, often abandoned for economic reasons. The lucky ones are picked up by individuals or animal welfare groups who sometimes go hungry to feed them.

Dog-fighting and cock-fighting are expected to be outlawed, but ritual animal sacrifices common in Santeria, widespread across the island of 11 million, are not.

The delays in moving forward with the rules, first set for November 2020, had raised the concern of activists.

"I believe that if March 1 had arrived in Cuba without an animal welfare law it would have been chaos. Because we animal rights activists are overloaded with cases. And there are no medicines or help," said Gabriela Lopez, 27-year-old pet lover.