It was the first of six consecutive weeks spent in Nicaragua on my first trip to that Central American country in 1989. We were in Estelí, 90 miles north of Managua, the sprawling Nicaraguan capitol.
Estelí is legendary for the stand its people took in the dying days of the Somoza dictatorship. Estelí was the place the Somoza family was determined to exact “final revenge” on its way out of power. More than 15,000 casualties were suffered in the city as the Guardia Nacional attacked Estelí in those awful days.
In 1979, as Somoza and his followers fled, the Revolution ended. The Sandinistas took control. A decade later the counter-revolution neared an end. That war between the US-funded Contras and the Sandinistas was fought largely from Estelí north to the Honduras border.
Too many years of being on the frontline of internecine warfare turned the city into a frontier-like existence where the constant exposure to life-threatening risks gave way to continual violence of all sorts.
My guide that day was a young Nicaraguan who, years earlier, had been captured as a revolutionary and tortured by Guardia officers. He wanted me to see the back-alley culture of his hometown.
Walking along the streets on a quiet Sunday afternoon the bullet holes in buildings and the bomb craters left by the departing Somozans ten years earlier were evident. We arrived at a building, not more than a dilapidated warehouse. The sign above the door read “Pelea de Gallos Hoy.” Cockfights Today.
Inside, the building was filled with smoke and noise. The floor was dirt, its walls grimy. There were no women, only men. It seemed all were smoking cigarettes, drinking rum, and shouting angrily at one another. Many were waving hands full of Cordobas, the local currency, which in those days was being devalued by the hour.
We worked our way to the center of the building. There we found a rather small, blocked off area, about the size of a boxing ring. Instead of ropes, a wooden fence about three feet high surrounded it. The shouting intensified as we neared the outer perimeter of the fence.
Three men circled each other in the ring, two holding roosters in their hands. They each shoved the face of their rooster into the face of the other man’s bird. The taunting caused each of the cocks to become increasingly angry. The third man appeared to be a referee of sorts. At his signal, the other two men threw their roosters to the ground and the cockfight began in earnest.
It didn’t last long. Razor-sharp knives called gaffs, about 3 1/2 inches long, were strapped to the birds’ legs. The roosters attacked each other with unnatural viciousness. The birds screamed. Blood flew. The gaffs cut deeply into each bird. They continued to hack away, puncturing the other’s body and gouging one another’s eyes.
Within minutes one of the birds did the greater damage to the other. It was held high by the referee and the crowd cheered loudly as he declared that bird the winner while the other bird was tossed out of the ring into a pile of dead and dying losers.
The noise died down a little as Cordobas exchanged hands from those who bet on the loser to those who had money down on the winner.
“Why do the birds act so aggressive toward one another?” I inquired. “Las drogas,” was the answer. The fighting cocks are shot full of stimulants before a fight. The drugs cause them to react to one another in a way that they would not otherwise.
Witness the cruelty. Click on www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNfPLez2gNw
Cockfighting isn’t simply cruel. It is barbaric. I was horrified to learn that this blood sport may have occurred within a few miles of my own home. But Cheyenne isn’t a frontier village in a third world country. The District Attorney should take seriously this horrendous violation of our community values and prosecute all involved to the fullest extent of the law.