Then came the call from police that would turn shutting down the C-9 Basin into his very own extreme sport.


The C-9 basin (C stands for canal; 9 is the canal's number) was never conceived as a human habitat. It was established in the late 1960s as an ecological buffer zone between the Everglades and sprawling development in Miami-Dade County. The 3,800 acres of wetlands are a protected habitat, where wood storks, herons, hawks, and other native species can thrive without fear of human intrusion.

The land is zoned for agricultural use, with property owners allowed to build one house per acre and free to use the land to grow crops or raise livestock.

Photo by C. Stiles
Guillermo Bejerano moved to the C-9 Basin 15 years ago to raise fowl.
Photo by C. Stiles
Guillermo Bejerano moved to the C-9 Basin 15 years ago to raise fowl.

But the basin isn't some idyllic country landscape. Like any unchartered, unregulated western frontier, the C-9 attracted a criminal element that turned it into a lawless ranchero outpost where even cops would not dare tread without a battalion of government agencies backing them up.

For every ranchero like Delgado trying to survive, there are others who behave like outlaws in a frontier town. One of Delgado's neighbors, a man named Helio Dominguez, was cited eight times between 2002 and 2006 for operating a cockfighting ring.

Gregorio Arencibia, whose ranch sits behind Dominguez's place, was arrested in 2003 on animal cruelty charges for starving ten goats, one of which had died. In January, the 79-year-old was one of the six property owners busted for converting his ranch into a full-blown entertainment center complete with kitchens and fully stocked bars to serve food and booze.

Known as Okeechobee Ranch, the place was outfitted with a rodeo ring where rancheros could rope cows on horseback and with a Spanish-tiled gazebo where private parties were catered with whole roast pigs slaughtered on-site. The bars were made of unvarnished wood and had coolers to hold beer.

Officials also found that much of the basin was operating using pilfered electricity. Labyrinths of power cords were spliced and rerouted from Florida Power & Light Co. meters — a mess that the power company is still attempting to sort out. "You try to trace the cords, and they go through other people's properties, up and down trees, around three corners, and through a shack until it ends up powering a property five acres away," said Charlie Danger, Miami-Dade's Building and Neighborhood Compliance Department director.

That same month, New Times reported that ATV-riding gunslingers were performing drive-bys on endangered wood storks. The gangly white water birds — in the midst of a comeback after their numbers had dropped below 2,500 — had become target practice for drunken revelers.

In addition, cockfighting rings flourished with impunity. This past September, county police officers, while on a rare patrol through the C-9, happened to come across a two-and-half-acre ranch. The cops heard the clamor of howling men and screeching roosters. One of the cops peered through a broken slat on the side of a rustic wood house.

Some 200 spectators were standing or seated on wood benches around the ring. They were drunk on bloodlust, cheering for the two roosters going at it in the ring. During the police raid, ten participants were collared and 100 caged roosters were confiscated. The ten men were convicted earlier this month on felony animal-cruelty charges. But none of the defendants will serve jail time. Eight will have to perform 100 hours of community service, while the remaining two have to put in 200 hours because of previous convictions.

A main reason the C-9 outlaw culture has flourished is that the law-abiding citizens of the basin are afraid to snitch on the lawbreakers, residents say. Delgado says he has been robbed twice on his property, once at gunpoint, but he never reported the crimes.

Jose, a raspy-voiced farmer sprinkling fowl feed into the chicken coop in the front yard of his trailer, says county, local, and federal officials are not interested in stamping out the illegal underworld. "For the past 30 years, the C-9 Basin has been a den of corruption," says Jose, who asked that his last name not be used. "It is a sewer of criminal activity. It is like a Third World country out here."


For decades, selling animal flesh for human consumption has been the primary source of income for many of the C-9 residents. Delgado, for one, raised goats and hogs, which are always in high demand in Cuban-rich Miami. A card he shows claims he's been a registered livestock dealer since 1996. "I've had 1,000 pigs throughout the years," Delgado says. "I'd bring them down from Georgia and North Carolina to sell them here."

But the farms in the basin that operate as slaughterhouses are not licensed by the USDA, and most violate a host of business, code, health, and environmental regulations. For years, the muddy dirt roads had run red with blood from the wholesale illegal slaughtering of chickens, goats, and pigs.

But the wholesale illegal slaughter finally grabbed headlines last year, when horse carcasses began turning up skinned and expertly butchered, splayed on the floor of stable stalls. Intestines were removed and heaped into garbage bags later found tossed into brush. The hacked bodies were charred by marauders armed with lighters, or the skeletons were found in plastic bins alongside Heineken empties — as evidence of an invite-only roadside shindig. Even more brazen, men in pickup trucks were driving around the C-9 offering residents the lean flesh from coolers. Their bargain asking price: $7 a pound.

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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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