Venezuela cock fighting where politics is banned and the dollar reigns


Fueled by beer, rum and whiskey, spectators cram the stands around the combat pit, imploring their favorite to “kill” his opponent as dollar bills exchange hands between punters and bookies, reports BSS/AFP.

Cock fighting is legal in Venezuela and at arenas in Caracas, politics is banned. “Everyone comes here: the poor, the rich, the politicians, the non-politicians. There’s everyone,” said Angel Salamanca, who runs a club that organizes cock fights in the El Silencio neighborhood of Caracas.

In Venezuela and several Latin American countries cock fighting is considered part of the “culture” inherited from European colonizers. Cock fighting is also popular in Asian countries like the Philippines, but banned in the West. “In this country, the powerful bet on cock fights,” a cock breeder told AFP.

Cock fighting recently caused a stir in Puerto Rico, a US territory, where the government passed a law legalizing bouts despite federal US laws prohibiting it.

And it is US dollars that fuels the betting in Venezuela, something that would have been unthinkable just one year ago. Bets are laid with $10, $20 or even $50 bills. Bottles of rum at the arena cost $5 — substantial sums in a crisis-ridden country where the minimum wage is just $6 a month.

The use of dollars is necessary, though, given the local bolivar currency lost 98.6 percent of its value in 2019. Public confidence in the bolivar is minimal and bills are rare. In 2020, 70 percent of transactions in the country are expected to be conducted with dollars, up from half in 2019, according to analysts Ecoanalitica.

Using US dollars also protects bookies from unpaid debts, says Salamanca. Bookies once accepted electronic bank transfers but many people “didn’t pay,” so the dollar solved that issue. The sums are nothing to be scoffed at. In some fight arenas, the top prize given to the most impressive cock can range from $5,000 to $30,000.

That’s potentially 5,000 times the minimum wage. Cock fighting is “a bit like boxing,” says one spectator. Cocks are weighed and examined prior to their bouts, which take place amidst a white-hot atmosphere of screaming fans. One major difference, though, is that the loser often dies.

The trainer of a winning cock kisses his bird in jubilation, while another waiting for his animal to fight whispers in its ear “to bring him luck.” While passions can run high, there’s an unwritten rule that political opinions are left at the door. Branding President Nicolas Maduro a “dictator” or his rival and opposition leader Juan Guaido an “American puppet” are strictly banned. 

“We never talk about politics, we come here to forget,” said Avilio Subero, the owner of a cock fighting club in Cota 905, a tough Caracas neighborhood that often makes the news for murders and shoot-outs. The paying public is made up primarily of laborers, pubic employees and even soldiers.

The first prize to the most valiant cock is not always paid in dollars. One day in Subero’s establishment, the winner was given a 30 kilogram pig, enough to leave some supporters salivating. Maria, whose husband is a cock trainer, took one look at the pig and started dreaming of a tasty pork meal.