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Cockfighting remains an integral part of Cuban culture. It has evolved over centuries based on cocks, or male chickens, naturally competing with their peers to pass on only the strongest genes.
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Cockfighters are exclusively male but are of all ages, occupations, and economic status. While cockfights are usually on Sundays, there is the daily feeding and care.
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Fighting cocks are well cared as professional athletes with the most nutritious diet and supplements. Any problems, such as this cocks damaged comb, are carefully treated.
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Cockfights are usually held out in the country away from town in an area generally inaccessible by motorized vehicles. Locations of these semi-permanent arenas are always one of those worst kept secrets. While cockfighting itself is legal, all forms of gambling are illegal. Like many Cuban laws, it is tolerated if moderately discreet. Most of the 200 spectators at this event paid the equivalent of 80 cents for the one-hour ride in a horse cart.
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Some just ride their own horses out to the arena. Cock owners simply carry their birds in their hands. Most Cubans do not have a saddle or bridle but just use a pad and rope halter.
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It sometimes is like a beauty contest as owners’ parade around their well-groomed fighting cocks.
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Owners arrange fights but the cocks are weighted to insure they are similar in size.
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There are always several dice tables set up by private dealers. Bets typically run in the 5 to 25 cent equivalent range so people play all day.
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The bar. The one drink available is a glass of rum that costs equivalent 4 cents. It is always manned by women who bring two shot glasses to serve two customers at a time along with 5 or 6 bottles of rum.
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Someone is always selling food, as this is a social event lasting a good part of the day. Frequently it is a whole spit roasted pig served as the typical plate lunch with rice and tomatoes.
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Artificial spurs are attached for fights and removed afterwards. There are specialists who mount and dismount the spurs for owners.
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Fights are timed and ended after 5 minutes if a decisive winner has not emerged. Owners will throw in the towel if it appears their cock is losing with no chance of a comeback.
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Emotions run high. There is the basic aspect of competition as well as some spectators have substantial bets.
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Winners are happy, very happy. Financial return comes from betting on your own cock. Winning big money means the risk of losing big.
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Bettors on the winning cock collect. There are substantial size bets, sometimes equivalent of a week’s pay.
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The loser will be taken home and given medication and time to recover to fight another day. Lose too many times and they go the way of all chickens, into the frying pan.
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translation: The cocks make me money. The women take it from me.