Opinion: Cock fighting

POSTED: 06/11/12 12:59 PM

It finally starts to sink in that the Parliament of St. Maarten is ready to turn a blind eye to the so-called cultural event called cockfighting. On the day the decision was taken, May 25, the President of Animals R Friends, Monique Hofman immediately announced that she would address this matter with the Ombudsman and ask for a constitutional review. Now, two weeks later Light Workers St. Maarten has jumped in by organizing an on-line petition.

Any action to keep this matter in the spotlight is welcome, and if this online petition helps to convince the Ombudsman that she has to take action, it is most welcome.

We have to be realistic though; at the same time we should not let that sense of realism dampen in any way our outrage.

This is the reality: the fifteen Members of Parliament – excuse our French – don’t give a damn. So the only way to reverse the decision is to have the Ombudsman submit the whole new criminal code – almost 600 pages long – to the Constitutional Court led by Justice Bob Wit. Let’s not forget that the Ombudsman is the only one holding the key to this Constitutional Court and that the only thing this court will be able to do is assess whether there are unconstitutional articles in the new criminal code.

There are therefore two hurdles on the way to a possible review: the Ombudsman and the Constitutional Court. Before anything happens, the Governor will have to sign off on the legislation. When – or better: if – he does this, the clock starts ticking for the Ombudsman. The office will then have seven weeks to review the code and to decide whether action towards the Constitutional Court is warranted. If the Ombudsman concludes that there are no grounds to do this, it is over and out – once the period of seven weeks has passed there is no possibility to review the code against the constitution.

If this situation occurs – and we’re not saying it will, because we know that the Ombudsman is already in the process of reviewing this important piece of legislation – the opponents of cockfighting have several options left: increasing the pressure on Members of Parliament to retrace their steps and to take the initiative to review the law themselves. Knowing our parliamentarians, hell will freeze over before they will do this.

The second option then is to organize large scale protests at the site of these cockfights in such a way that the cockfights themselves become impossible. This is a tricky approach, because the cockfight organizers will not look friendly upon unwanted intervention in their affairs. This is therefore something we strongly discourage.

Looking at the more than 500 signatures the online petition carried on Sunday morning (the goal is 1, 000 signatures), we noticed that quite a lot of the signatories from the Netherlands Antilles (St. Maarten as a country is not an option the site offers) did so without displaying their name. That indicates a fear for retaliation from the cock fighting lobby. Only a few, like animal rights activist Mercedes de Windt, civil law attorney Wim van Sambeek, and Guy van der Meulen, head of the bureau for foreign affairs, put their names on display.

The third option that comes to mind is to expose organizers and participants in cockfights. These people may own businesses and exposing them as participants in cockfights would certainly inspire the opponents of these practices to avoid doing business with them. The internet is the obvious tool for a name and shame campaign.

That our politicians did not even think twice about approving an exception to article 539 (that prohibits cruelty against animals) for “cultural, organized and structural activities” says a lot about the mindset of our MPs. In a way, it reminds us of their lackluster attitude towards modern day slavery in the brothels on our island. Not one politician has ever stood up and said: we have to clean up that mess. Sure, maybe one or two may have mumbled something like, if this happens the perpetrators should be prosecuted, but that’s about it.

The same goes, in case no one has noticed up to now, for domestic violence. We know that the President of our Parliament, Gracita Arrindell, is actively campaigning against it through her Peridot Foundation, but she is a loner among her colleagues.

So it seems fair to say that our politicians do not only consider cockfighting an acceptable “cultural” event, they also look at enslaving prostitutes and domestic violence this way. Why don’t they classify then armed robberies as a cultural event? They happen all the time and they give our local youngsters something to do.

But no, when it comes to crime, our politicians pretend that they want to be tough. And when they have to vote on legislation that gives investigators the authority to use special and narrowly defined investigation methods, they suddenly become concerned about privacy-issues, knowing darn well that the only ones that ought to have these concerns are citizens who are living on the wrong side of the law.

But back to cockfighting. It is of course typical that cockfighting is not mentioned explicitly in the criminal code. The exception to the cruelty against animals article is for “cultural, organized and structural activities.”

Note that the exception rule does not apply to cultural activities that are organized and structural. The way the exception is written, it could simply apply to organized activities that are not cultural at all. It could be, indeed, cock fights but also dog fights (we could invite Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick to teach us a few things about it), crab races (held every Wednesday on Kimsha Beach) or fights involving any animal that comes to someone’s distorted mind.

Do our politicians care? No they do not. Instead, as we have seen over the past weeks, at least one of them got mad like a kid that has just been robbed of its favorite toy, because he was not invited to the new government’s swearing in ceremony. These little and laughable incidents show our citizens what our politicians really find important: not what lives among the population, but first and foremost what lives in their own minds.

And oh, here is another argument against cock fighting. Our parliamentarians have a strong tendency to take decisions based on what the population wants. So if they perceive that a majority of the population supports cock fighting (or that certain powerful or potentially dangerous individuals have an interest in legalizing this cultural madness) they will support cock fighting too. But what are those same politicians going to do when their voters clamor for, say, introducing the death penalty?

At times, politicians have to take their own responsibility and do what is right instead of dancing to the tune of a majority that may only exist in their imagination.

For the time being the fate of cock fighting is in the hands of the Ombudsman and that of the Constitutional Court. Our sense of realism is heavily at odds with what we feel is the right thing to do: things don’t look good for those cocks.

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