HomeNewsCuba Quietly Admits to Wildlife Trafficking Problem
NEWS

Cuba Quietly Admits to Wildlife Trafficking Problem

CUBA / 15 JUN 2021 BY ASHLEY PECHINSKI EN

Though Cuba's illegal animal trade rarely makes headlines, its government has quietly raised alarms with a new wildlife trafficking law.

People and businesses found trafficking wildlife now face fines of up to 1,500 Cuban pesos ($63) and 4,000 pesos ($167) respectively, according to the new law, which covers "mammals, birds, bees, reptiles, fish, mollusks, crustaceans and amphibians." The consequences are fairly light when compared to elsewhere in the region, and officials are already warning that they might not be enough.

In early June, the country's head of environmental safety and regulation, Jorge Álvarez, said in a TV interview that fines were not a strong deterrent.

Despite the increase in fines, "protected species...are being sold, both on social networks and in person," he said.

"Those who take part in this trade and those who buy [the animals] have no idea the damage they are causing to the environment," Álvarez added, saying that the government may increase the fines.

It appears that the majority of wildlife trafficked from the island are birds and snails. Cuban grassquits, endemic birds with a swirl of bright yellow around their necks and backs, have been smuggled to the United States, where they can fetch anywhere from $200 to $300 each on the black market. Cuban Amazon parrots – coveted in the parrot trade for their bright red throats – can be bought for $600 each.

SEE ALSO: Songbirds to Raptor Eggs, the Looting of Latin America's Bird Species

Sought by collectors for their colorful, intricate shells, Cuban painted snails are one of the most threatened species on the island. A single shell can be worth up to $70.

To meet international demand, the snails, known as Polymita picta, have been harvested and killed. Between 2012 and 2016, some 23,000 shells were seized in Cuba.

The snail was placed on the endangered species list in 2016. A year later, the sale of any Polymita snail was prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), an international treaty granting degrees of protection to more than 37,000 species.

InSight Crime Analysis

Cuba rarely releases criminal statistics, but the island nation also enjoys far lower levels of organized crime than most of its Caribbean neighbors. However, the new law shows wildlife trafficking has become enough of an issue to warrant a response.

The new law has faced criticisms beyond its lack of stiff penalites. Animal rights activists in Cuba have complained that it does nothing to stop cockfighting or dogfighting, both still popular pastimes on the island.

SEE ALSO: Economic Hardship During Pandemic Caused Wildlife Trafficking in Brazil to Soar

Cuba's timing is also striking. Much of Latin America and the Caribbean has seen an increase in wildlife trafficking during the pandemic, as people began to poach animals to earn money and for consumption.

Cuba has been hit hard by COVID-19, which struck amid an already severe economic crisis. While unconfirmed by the Cuban government, it is possible that some Cubans have turned to the animal trade in order to survive, boosting the illicit industry and warranting legal action.

Confiscations made by other countries also demonstrate that there is cause for concern. Due to its proximity to the island, the city of Miami is where most wildlife smuggling busts are made. The city has even created a dedicated undercover environmental crime unit that frequently deals with trafficking from Cuba.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BRAZIL / 21 APR 2015

Over 75 percent of all environmentalists killed in 2014 were from either Central or South America, according to a new…

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME / 5 MAR 2012

Nicaragua has deployed an "eco-battalion" of some 580 soldiers charged with protecting the country's endangered natural resources.

CARIBBEAN / 16 JAN 2012

Cuba seized more than 9 tons of drugs in 2011, marking a 300 percent increase compared to 2010.

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Apure Investigation Makes Headlines

22 OCT 2021

InSight Crime’s investigation into the battle for the Venezuelan border state of Apure resonated in both Colombian and Venezuelan media. A dozen outlets picked up the report, including Venezuela’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.