Activists from across Florida came to protest outside Clewiston City Hall Tuesday evening, calling on Hendry County commissioners to revoke the permits of at least two monkey breeding facilities operating in the county.
The protest was spearheaded by journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell, who helped rally the crowds behind chants of “No more monkeygate, this is the Sunshine State” and “Torture isn’t science.”
Protesters dressed in monkey suits, hazmat suits and sat in cages on the sidewalk, hoping to stir the hearts of passersby, but most importantly, the officials who have the power to close the businesses.
Those opposed to the facilities cite rampant abuse on the monkeys, which they say is documented through undercover video captured by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and a supposed violation of the Sunshine Law on the part of county commissioners as just some of the reasons they stood outside city hall Tuesday.
“I don’t think Florida needs the controversy. We’re known for eco-tourism and manatees. We don’t need this dark cloud,” said Kelly Anne Alvarez, who traveled from Pompano Beach to be at the protest.
The facilities, run by Primate Products, Inc. (PPI) and The Mannheimer Foundation Inc., are meant to breed monkeys to be used for research. U.S. Department of Agriculture documents allegedly showed research and testing were being done in addition to breeding, however, an investigation conducted by Hendry County staff last year reportedly found no violations.
The breeding facilities were approved by county commissioners without a public hearing because the facilities are considered agricultural under county code. Those opposed feel the public should have been notified before the approval was made and most believe the facilities do not fall under the category of agriculture.
A lawsuit is currently underway against Hendry County, which says commissioners violated the Sunshine Law by not holding public hearings before approving the facilities.
Commissioner Michael Swindle, chairman of the Hendry County board, said commissioners did not violate the Sunshine Law and the facilities fall within the guidelines of the county’s code of ordinances. He said he looks forward to the judge’s ruling to prove that.
Despite Commissioner Swindle’s insistence, protesters packed the commission chambers before the start of the regularly scheduled county commission meeting and spoke for nearly two hours during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Protesters as far as Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale and Venice spoke out against the facilities and urged the commission to put a stop to the torture they say is happening every day within the county.
Some of the most heartfelt appeals seemed to come from locals who live near the facilities or who could use their voting powers in the next election.
“I’m a mile and a half away from the facility. I didn’t realize it until eight months ago. I go horseback riding back there. Suddenly I see all this land being destroyed. This is a beautiful parcel of land — oak trees and old Florida — it’s gorgeous. I see it all being mowed down. So I ask somebody and they say, ‘Oh, they’re building a monkey facility.’ I come to find out it’s for bio-research on monkeys. This is not agriculture. It’s all here for testing and abuse and torture of these animals,” said Denise Everly, a resident of Alva.
Martha Hester, who moved to Hendry County in 1982, appealed to the commission saying, “I know what nice people you are, I know some of the burdens you bear. I do not understand how you could choose a business over the lives of your children and your grandchildren. We voted for you because we care. Please prove us right. This is not the kind of business we need in our area.”