Starving a dog as “art” brings pressure on Nicaragua to adopt a humane law

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2008:


TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras–Costa Rican shock
artist Guillermo “Habacuc” Vargas may become a
real-life Central American counterpart of the
Ancient Mariner, whose fictional excess and
punishment helped an entire society to consider
how to respond to cruelty toward animals.
More than two million people have signed
Internet petitions denouncing Vargas. Thousands
have pledged to ensure that he will not escape
his past.
“As part of an exposition in Managua,
Nicaragua, in August,” summarized Rod Hughes of
Costa Rica News on October 4, 2007, “Vargas
allegedly found a dog tied up on a street corner
in a poor Nicaragua barrio and brought the dog to
the showing. He tied the dog, according to
furious animal lovers, in a corner of the salon,
where the dog died after a day. The exhibition
included a legend spelled out in dog food reading
‘You are what you read,’ photos, and an incense
burner that burned an ounce of marijauna and 175
‘rocks’ of crack cocaine. In the background,
according to reports, the Sandista national
anthem was played backward.

“According to the artist,” Hughes
continued, “his ‘art’ was a tribute to Natividad
Canda, a Nicaraguan burglar killed in Costa Rica
by two Rottweilers guarding property he had
entered at night.”
Hughes’ account was largely translated
from the newspaper La Nacion, of San Jose,
Costa Rica, which added, “The dog died the day
after the exhibition, as was confirmed to La
Nación by Marta Leonor Gonzalez, editor of the
cultural supplement of La Prensa in Nicaragua.”
The severely emaciated condition of the
dog has been documented in numerous published
photographs of the exhibit, many of them
close-ups of the dog, others showing the dog in
the background while focusing on other parts of
the gallery.
“We heard about this three days after it
happened, and the poor dog had already died,”
McKee Project administrator Carla Ferraro told
The McKee Project, the leading
dog-and-cat sterilization program in Costa Rica,
was only one of many Costa Rican pro-animal
organizations to respond–but Vargas was beyond
prosecution, The dog was tied and starved
outside of Costa Rican jurisdiction, while
Nicaragua has no humane law.
“Vargas, 32, said he wanted to test the
public’s reaction, and insisted that none of the
exhibition visitors intervened to stop the
animal’s suffering,” reported Gerard Couzens,
Madrid correspondent for the London Observer,
after the furor followed Vargas to an appearance
in Spain. “He refused to say whether the animal
had survived the show,” Couzens added.
“Juanita Bermúdez, director of the
Códice Gallery,” where the Nicaraguan exhibition
was held, “insisted Natividad escaped after just
one day,” Couzens continued.
Claimed Bermudez, “Natividad was untied
all the time except for the three hours the
exhibition lasted, and was fed regularly with
dog food that Habacuc himself brought in.”
“Our attempts to discuss the matter with
Vargas’ representative were met with silence,”
posted the World Society for the Protection of
Animals. “When Vargas was invited to enter the
VI Central American Visual Arts Biennale, to be
held in Honduras this year, WSPA met with
Empresarios por el Arte, one of the sponsors of
the Honduras Biennale.”
The outcome, WSPA announced, was that
“the Biennial organizers have agreed not only to
make the Honduras Association for the Protection
of Animals and their Environ-ment official
observers but also to include new competition
rules that prohibit abuse of animals.”
In addition, WSPA said, it and a
Nicaraguan member society “are supporting a
campaign, led by the Commission for Natural
Resources and Environment of the Nicaraguan
Assembly, calling for legislation to protect
animals in Nicaragua.”
If Nicaragua adopts a humane law, the
Vargas case will parallel the influence of The
Rime of the Ancient Mariner in a way largely
overlooked by literary critics.
Samuel Coleridge published the first
edition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in
1798, 22 years before Britain had a humane
law–but Coleridge was aware of the need for one,
and moved in the same circles as some of
Britain’s most prominent early animal advocates.
As The Rime of the Ancient Mariner gained
popularity, parallel to the efforts of William
Wilburforce and “Humanity Dick” Martin to push a
humane law through Parliament, Coleridge
produced updated and expanded editions in 1800
and 1817.
The central character of The Rime of the
Ancient Mariner is a sailor on a ship that is led
out of treacherous Antarctic waters to safety by
an albatross. The Ancient Mariner shoots the
albatross. Catastrophe follows. All of the crew
die except the Ancient Mariner, but not before
he is punished by being forced to wear the
remains of the albatross around his neck, to
remind himself and the world of his deed.
One of Samuel Coleridge’s descendants,
Stephen Coleridge (1854-1936) acknowledged The
Rime of the Ancient Mariner as his inspiration
throughout a long tenure as president of the
British National Anti-Vivisection Society.
Stephen Coleridge’s 9-point “Animals’
Charter” is believed to be the earliest
incarnation of the document now called the
Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare,
promoted by WSPA in hopes of getting the United
Nations to adopt it as an international
Costa Rican president Oscar Arias Sanchez
on March 5, 2008 became the one millioneth
person to sign a petition seeking passage of the
Universal Declaration. Costa Rican vice
president Laura Chinchilla, environment minister
Roberto Dobles, and education minister Leonardo
Garnier signed the petition at the same ceremony,
and then passed the petition among the audience
to collect further signatures, said a WSPA press

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