At Kiva's Web site (www.kiva.org), you can plunk down a loan of $25 to spot a farmer for pineapple seeds in Nicaragua, or help a fish seller buy cooking oil in Kenya. Started by a Bay Area couple inspired by Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize–winning pioneer of microcredit loans, the San Francisco–based site even has Bill Clinton touting it as a way to lift entrepreneurs in developing countries out of poverty for a minimal amount of money.
But one entrepreneur who hit the Kiva block on Feb. 15 has gotten some people squawking: Sara Alva Vasquez Rodriguez was asking for a $700 loan to buy a freezer for her cockfighting ring in the Peruvian jungle. The posting features a smiling woman (whom we presume to be Rodriguez herself) cradling a doomed rooster in the coliseum she and her husband built behind their home. In three days, she had her loan. Complaining e-mails plunked into Kiva's customer service inbox, and an anonymous posting on www.indybay.org denounced the nonprofit's lack of an animal rights policy.
Kiva says Rodriguez' submission was red-flagged by one of the volunteers who look over the postings, but they let it go through after its Peruvian lending partner assured them it was kosher there. Animal-rights lawyers say that while "aiding and abetting" cockfighting is a misdemeanor in California punishable by up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine, and federal law prohibits shipping animals across state or country borders for fighting, it's doubtful a charge would stick to someone subsidizing the practice overseas, especially in a country where tying blades to roosters' legs and baiting them to cut each other to death is legal.
Michelle Kreger, Kiva partnership manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, says that cockfighting is a "rich tradition" in Peru, and adds that the nonprofit does not judge businesses as long as they're not illegal, such as prostitution or drug or arms trafficking.
"We create the marketplace," she says. "Who would have the stamp of approval? Whoever loaned to them."
SF Weekly called up one of the cockfighting lenders. Blake White, a partner at Accu-Logistics LLC in San Leandro, says he picked the most recent batch of entrepreneurs his company lends to at random without fully reading the descriptions. "I'm rapidly opening up my Kiva account to see who we're funding here," he says. "Oh, she runs a — oh my God!" It sounded as if he pulled the phone away from his mouth for a good chuckle. "You know what? I do feel bad. I would be happy to give an equal donation to the animal-rights activists to offset my Kiva footprint."