CNN aired a powerful report yesterday by bureau chief John Zarrella on animal slaughter farms in Miami-Dade county. It's a report that should outrage and sicken every South Florida resident.
Except that many of those residents help keep these places in business by patronizing them and buying their nochebuena lechons.
Even though most of these places are illegal and unlicensed, they operate openly with little fear of being shut down by police.
Last March, Miami New Times' Gus Garcia-Roberts also exposed these places in a cover story entitled "Pork Pirates."
To be fair, Northwest Dade is outlaw territory, where illegal slaughter certainly isn't the only criminal activity practiced with impunity. The farmland is marred by rampant illegal dumping: Old tires, gutted boats, ancient Jet Skis, and other discarded items lie in Calcutta-esque mounds on roadsides. At the intersection of NW 186th Street and 137th Avenue, the torched remains of vehicles are regularly found — presumably the work of thieves, drug dealers, and insurance swindlers.CNN's Zarrella interviewed activist Richard "Kudo" Couto who thinks there may be more than 100 illegal, unsanitary and unregulated slaughterhouses in the area.
On a recent weekend, all-day revelers filled the neglected area. Club ranches — sprawling cowboy bars — blasted bachata music, served beer, and roasted meat. On a dusty inlet that one resident calls "cockfight alley," men toted roosters to and from rings in specially designed narrow cases emblazoned with slogans such as "Gallo Fuerte," brazenly defying animal-cruelty laws.
Unlicensed butchery is but the most prominent tentacle of the criminal activity that has seized Northwest Dade, says Carlos, a burly Cuban-American who has spent most of his 47 years in the area. He insists on anonymity as he describes a sort of local meat mafia awash with drug cash. "The people are scared to talk because of threats," he says. "Here they'll shoot at you if they think you ratted on them. It's like a Third-World county we're in right now."
Zarrella, in trying to get answers as to why these place are allowed to exist, ran into some classic Miami-Dade bureaucratic buck-passing.
CNN contacted Miami-Dade Animal Services Department, an agency that had a representative at that meeting. Spokesperson Xiomara Mordcovich said the agency does not deal with issues involving farm animals and directed us to the Miami-Dade Police Department.And as far as I can tell, the Herald hasn't done a story on these places in years.
The Police Department declined an interview. "We are not actively investigating any incidents involving illegal slaughterhouses," the department said in an e-mail. Then it referred us back to Animal Services and also to the code compliance department.
Charles Danger, director of the Miami-Dade Building and Neighborhood Compliance Department, admits that it was because of Couto's persistence that it is now putting together a multi-agency task force he called "Operation Miss Piggy and Mr. Ed."
According to Danger, part of the reason nothing has been done to clean up this area is because of fear for the safety of inspectors.
"Every time we go in there, we have to go in there with the police -- and even the police don't want to go in there," says Danger.
Danger says the Miami-Dade Police Department is now on the new task force, which also includes agencies such as the state health department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "It comes from a lot of years of illegal operation. We have to do it together because it's not going to be easy," says Danger.
Using the search term "illegal farms" I dipped into the Herald archives.
A Herald story in Jan. 1992, by Chuck Strouse - now the editor of Miami New Times - makes mention of a "[proposed] farm [that] will provide meat for buyers who now sometimes purchase from illegal farms in West Dade. Metro zoning inspectors say illegal pig farms that spread waste into groundwater are a big problem in the area."
But one has to go back to 1983 to find any mention in the Herald of action being taken against illegal farms:
SQUATTERS GONE BUT PIGS REMAIN AS OFFICIALS INSPECT IN NW DADESo here's a question for Charles Danger - or maybe the always spineless and non-committal Carlos Alvarez would like to answer - when are you going to get around to doing something about these places? After all, they've been operating openly - and illegally - for at least a quarter-century.
Tuesday, January 18, 1983
by JEFFREY WEISS Herald Staff Writer
In the ruins of a Northwest Dade pig farm, the smell of burning wood competed unsuccessfully Monday with the pungent, cloying odor of too many hogs.
In December, the last time Dade County inspectors visited the area, 107th Avenue north of 138th Street was a thriving shantytown of almost 100 Cuban refugees and a dozen pig farms.
None of it--neither the pigs nor the people nor their buildings--was legal.
Monday, when inspectors returned to gather evidence for future court cases, most of the people were gone. Many of the hogs were not.
The owners of the dozens of remaining illegal farms and buildings cited Monday will probably appear in court within two months, and the offending structures should be gone in four months, county zoning officials said.
As recently as last month, hundreds of people crowded the area to purchase the porcine makings of a traditional Cuban holiday meal.
"After seeing that mess out there, I'll never eat another pork chop as long as I live," Robert Martin, chief enforcement officer for Dade's Building and Zoning Department, said Monday.
None of the 107th Avenue farms have permits, said MacCallum.