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October 26, 2011

Replacing Animal Traction Vehicles

HSI hosts a forum in support of the working horses in Colombia’s megacities

Humane Society International

  • Asociacion Sentir Animal speaks at the HSI-hosted forum. Alex Rothlisberger/HSI

  • Some animal traction vehicle owners hold little regard for the well-being of horses. Alex Rothlisberger/HSI

by Alexandra Rothlisberger

This September, HSI visited Cali, the third largest city in Colombia, in support of the working horses who suffer at the hands of those who depend on them for a living.

There, we hosted a forum in conjunction with local animal welfare groups Asociacion Sentir Animal and Federación de Comités de Liberación Animal por Colombia, with the purpose of bringing together government entities, NGOs, and all of those whose interests are at stake now that the substitution of VTAs (animal traction vehicles) by motorized transport or seed money for a business initiative is an imminent reality.

Coming together

The forum was a success on many fronts: for starters, it included animal welfare groups and the union of carreteros who represent the community that owns the horses. In the past, the efforts of the animal protectionists had been misunderstood by the union as a plot to leave them unemployed.

Give now to help us improve the lives of these working equines and other animals who are suffering.

Lawyer and director of Asociacion Sentir Animal, Lida Yaneth Ramirez, gave a very thorough presentation in which she described not only her love and worry for the health of working horses, but also explained every petition she had filed with the local authorities requesting answers to questions such as “What kind of steps are being taken to educate the carreteros in professions that will become an alternative to their current source of employment?” and “Will the city recognize the pension plan owed to the carreteros who are past the retirement age?”

She  told the two union reps, “I will help you achieve social inclusion, but every time there’s animal abuse and neglect, we will be sitting on opposite sides of the table.” Her statement shows that in reality, the two groups want the same result. The carreteros want access to economic, social, and cultural opportunities that will allow them to integrate to society and compete for capital gain. If they achieve this goal, the horses will be replaced by motorized vehicles and the animals will be retired.

Progress, in places

The presence of representatives of the mayors' offices of the cities of Medellin and Bogota at the forum also helped shed a light on how Medellin was able to succeed in replacing every animal traction vehicle in the city with a motorized vehicle or seed money opportunity, and how Bogota has already begun to set aside budget lines to begin a similar process in November of this year.

Notably evident was the silla vacia, or chair left empty by the mayor of Cali, whose absence expressed the lack of interest the city has in finding a compromise that will benefit both the horses and their owners.

This forum was one of many attempts by the animal welfare community to pressure local governments to follow through with their social responsibilities. In 2003, the Colombian Constitutional Court ordained all cities to find ways offer labor training and education to all carreteros with the purpose of replacing animal traction vehicles in all cities with viable alternatives that would benefit this sector of society, and ultimately, the horses. To date, very few cities have advanced these efforts and only one mega-city, Medellin, has successfully instituted the substitution. Donate to support our campaigns.

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