Soon the C-9 had become an outpost for immigrants from the rural parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, a place where they could re-create their lives in el campo, or the rural country.

Born in Bauta, a regional trading center for local farmers 25 miles southwest of Havana, Delagado fled Cuba with his family in 1964. He worked 20 years as a trucker before returning to his roots in the C-9, following in the footsteps of his father, a cattle rancher.

And on this especially bright March morning, Delgado could well be back at the ranch. "¡Oye, campesinos!" he yells when he spots his neighbors Luis Rodriguez and Heriberto Viña, riding their horses, a brown mare named Guajira and a white stud with gray spots named Koki. Luis and Heriberto trot over. The ranchers are cousins who grew up in a rural section of Havana and came over in the Mariel boatlift.

Luis Rodriguez had horses for himself, his daughter, and his grandson on his C-9 Basin ranch until county, state, and federal regulators forced him out.
Photo by C. Stiles
Luis Rodriguez had horses for himself, his daughter, and his grandson on his C-9 Basin ranch until county, state, and federal regulators forced him out.
In a matter of days, Heriberto Viña dismantled the stables he built more than a decade ago.
Photo by C. Stiles
In a matter of days, Heriberto Viña dismantled the stables he built more than a decade ago.

"We came out here 15 years ago," says Rodriguez, who wears a black ten-gallon cowboy hat. "We grew up around horses. Out here, I have a horse, my daughter has a horse, and my grandson has a pony."

Rodriguez and Viña invite Delgado and his guest over to their ranch for some cold Coronas. A dozen roosters and chickens sit inside a large wire pen near a row of stables that can hold as many as 40 horses. Rodriguez and Viña, who work as roofers, rent the spare stables to seven other horse owners to make ends meet.

Rodriguez's living quarters is a two-room, wood-framed structure with a nice, big ceramic floor tile one would find inside a recently finished subdivision. Like most of the structures in the C-9, the tiny abode and its accompanying stables were built without permits. Viña says he lives in Homestead but stays at the ranch on weekends. "Over the past decade and a half, I estimate we have invested more than $30,000 in horses and stables," Viña says.

He points over to an army of ducks and hens waddling and clucking through the front yard of his neighbor Guillermo Bejerano's casita. "That old man has been here for 15 years too," he says. "Like us, he just wants a place in the country to live peacefully."

The 65-year-old Bejerano dumps a stew of potatoes, rice, carrots, peas, chicken, and pork onto a concrete slab. The ducks and hens dig into the slop. Bejerano's three dogs join the feast. At 6 every morning, Bejerano treks to a Sedano's supermarket in Hialeah in his beat-up Ford truck. "I come back here and cook them their food," he says with a slight lisp due to missing front teeth. "I love taking care of my animals."

Dressed in a blue- and red-striped polo shirt and gray dress slacks, Bejerano shuffles to his backyard to collect eggs from the hens inside a coop. He calls himself "un guajiro del monte," or country peasant, and says he came on the Mariel boatlift after serving a prison term for trying to escape Cuba on a raft. "I never liked the system of government over there," he says, placing 14 eggs inside a plastic bag. "The communists took all my roosters and chickens. That won't happen here."


On an early weekday afternoon in April, Couto's swiveling in an office chair in the converted garage that serves as his yuppie bat cave. Chased by his enemies from the C-9, Couto, 39, stays on the move. He has relocated five times in the past year and currently lives in an elegant bungalow in a moneyed neighborhood in Miami.

The white-painted wooden walls are covered in maps of the C-9, newspaper clippings, and stomach-turning pictures of eviscerated horses. A mug shot is circled on a New Times clipping about a racetrack horse trainer suspected of selling thoroughbreds to slaughter. Above the photo, Couto has scrawled TARGET. His commando gear is draped on a coat rack: black-and-green SWAT-style utility vests and a hunting jacket adorned with fake leaves. Resting on a shelf is the Halloween-quality, shoulder-length brunet wig he wears on reconnaissance missions.

Couto understands why the Cuban cowboys he has run off the C-9 Basin would be thrilled to see him dead or, at least, very badly maimed. He is the tree-hugger who's never been driven by real hunger, the outsider playing Elliot Ness at their expense. "I'm taking their livelihood away; I'm taking away their way of life," he says. "They have no conception that they've done anything wrong."

The son of a Rhode Island lumber executive, Couto grew up dyslexic and was given special education in the same private school that Bill Cosby's kid and a Johnson & Johnson heir attended. Even as a kid, he believed he could save animals through wealth: At 8, he promised his mother he was going to buy a farm to rescue animals from abusive pet shops.

After moving to Miami in 1999, Cuoto made a quick fortune flipping fixer-uppers before the real estate bust. The bachelor lived in a $3 million home on Miami Beach's North Bay Road and sought thrills racing motocross bikes and diving with sharks.

In 2007, Couto started volunteering at South Florida's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) ranch in northwest Miami-Dade. He donated money to the nonprofit and wanted to see where his money was going. As his real estate business withered with the market, Couto found himself at the ranch every day, feeding horses and cleaning stables. He joined the agency's board.

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7 comments
lindajaniebroussard
lindajaniebroussard

The writer describes ARM's supporters as "rabid."  Why?  Sounds like a small part of the writer thinks that there's something wrong with putting a stop to the horrors perpetuated by the criminals in the C9 area.  It's complete hogwash to imply that the so-called 'rights' of these landowners are being trampled upon.  These men represent worst sort of immigrants... send them home if they don't like American laws.

Kozzie69
Kozzie69

Go in there with the fricken army and cull them out. This is a disgusting thing they do with animals. Let them go back to their native land and butcher pets....we JUST DON'T DO IT HERE!!!!!

Olaf
Olaf

They are in Clewiston!!!

Lorinda Bloch
Lorinda Bloch

Agreed, Mr. Cuoto is just what this country needs--what Florida needs. And I hope more brave souls come forth and do what he is doing and has done. Every animal lover--especially horse owners--should be praising his name to the Highest Power. I say, "Thank you, Richard Cuoto." And thanks to the authors of this article and to New Times for reporting it.KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!! May the dreadful people who commit these unlawful inhumane acts get a taste of the very fates they have inflicted on these poor animals. It's going to be a nasty ride in Hell for them. And Hell is a very very long sentence.

Debbie
Debbie

Mr. Couto is a hero. His father should be super proud of him!!!! How to get in touch with him to give our support? These illegal acts have finally been put to a stop. We don't want cock-fighting, illegal slaughters, illegal dumping! Great article, Mr. Alvarado and Mr. Garcia-Roberts. We need people in this country and world like the three of you -- willing to combat crap, and willing to write about it. PETA should give an award to Mr. Couto! As should Miami-Dade and the State of Florida! I had no idea about all the illegal activities going on at the C-9 basin until this article.

Christy
Christy

I will be eternally grateful to Kudo for what he has done. The illegal slaughter industry down here is abominable, disgusting and gives Miami a bad name. When they started pulling meat off horses while they were still alive...right in their stalls or tied to trees... GAME OVER. This will end. Come near my horse...you won't like what you find.

Kozzie69
Kozzie69

 People need to put baby monitors in their barns and be ready with a gun to blow anyone away who messes with their property, which livestock is considered.

 
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