Guatemala bans circus animals over concerns about ‘brutal mistreatment’

A child stands next to an 11-year-old Lion called "Baby" during a protest by local circus employees at the National Congress in Guatemala City, Tuesday, May 22, 2007. The circus employees marched against a law which would permit foreign circus to present their shows outside the capital. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

Alexandre Meneghini/AP

Anyone who’s ever parted with $4 to attend a traveling circus in Central America knows what a sad spectacle they can be: skinny elephants trudge mindlessly in tail-to-trunk circles; a listless jaguar lays in a malodorous cage and hopes the mischievous kid with the stick ventures a bit closer to the bars; a zebra contemplates suicide.

One man has seen enough. Guatemala City Mayor Alvaro Arzú issued a Facebook decree on Monday announcing that traveling circuses are no longer allowed to include animals as part of their shows in Guatemala’s capital city.

“[Circus animals] are subjected to a brutal mistreatment, and we don’t want to participate in this type of behavior,” the mayor said in a 45-second statement posted to Facebook. “I think most Guatemalans will understand.”

In fact, many do. More than 100 young Guatemalans have posted messages of support for the mayor’s decision. Others, however, wonder if the municipal government doesn’t have its priorities backwards.

“But the government still permits the mistreatment of poor people and the most humble Guatemalans,” protested Facebook user Erick Hernandez.

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Another quick-witted pundit affected concern that the circus-animal ban would also apply to Guatemalan lawmakers. “WHAT? THEY’RE GOING TO DISSOLVE GUATEMALA’S CONGRESS??????” yelled Juan Pablo Dardon, whose caps lock button appears to be stuck.

Mayor Arzú’s decision to ban circus animals follows a series of complaints and fines levied against a local circus accused of mistreating its animals. It also follows on the heels of similar circus-animal ban issued by Mexico City last year.

“Guatemala City has a tendency to copy what Mexico City does,” noted one local reporter.

Though Guatemala’s murder rate has been on the decline since its record-posting year in 2009, the country still has one of the highest violent crime rates in Central America, which is already a tough neighborhood to begin with. The U.S. State Department notes that Guatemala averages 100 murders a week, putting the country in a category of crime deemed “critical.”

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Circus animals aren’t the only ones living in behind bars in Guatemala City. But unlike the complicated problem of citizen insecurity, the issue of circus-animal mistreatment in the city can be fixed with a 45-second Facebook decree.