14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 3 May 2023 — The livestock scenario in Cuba, marked by brutal robberies and police inaction, could not be more chaotic. Resolution 88 of the Ministry of Agriculture, which approved in 2022 a “procedure for the slaughter and consumption of beef for self-consumption” for authorized entities and producers, is now seen by officials as “erroneous” and somethng they regret, because instead of alleviating the situation, the level of crime has skyrocketed, according to Cubadebate.
The aging Cuban farmers no longer know what to do to face the thieves, who in 2022 robbed the huge figure of 82,445 cows and horses throughout the country, according to the official press. Few now go to the police, whose terrible investigative mechanisms are well known by the victims of this “common” problem.
“In the end nothing happens,” is the conclusion of the second part of a report on the theft and slaughter of cattle published this Wednesday by Cubadebate, with a third installment announced. Producers, officials and agents have offered the official media their thoughts on the subject, and no one dares to foresee a less bloodthirsty panorama: thieves are increasingly effective and violent, and in the countryside the early morning is filled with tension.
“Producers are very disappointed with this whole situation. It is very painful for them that a cow they have for milk is stolen to produce meat or to work,” says the director of livestock of the Ministry of Agriculture, Adrián Gutiérrez. Many no longer even know “where to [safely] put their animals to sleep.”
“They kill the cow, take it and nothing happens. There is also a safe market, which is not only fresh meat but the production of sausages,” says Gutiérrez. The farmers, for their part, know the score: what matters to criminals is to make easy money: “Did anyone think that with livestock it was going to be any different?”
In San Cristóbal, Artemisa province, the police managed to arrest a criminal who was up at dawn with two sacks full of meat. With complete peace of mind, he told the officers where the product had come from, on which farm he had killed the animal and what he intended to do with it.
However, when he arrived at the station, the man changed his entire statement. He said that had had found the sacks and that, naturally, with the hunger on the Island he did not hesitate to pick them up to feed his family. He spent three days in detention and left after paying bail. “It didn’t take long for them to find him again one morning, killing another cow,” Cubadebate says.
Releasing known criminals is an increasingly common practice in the rural areas of the Island. The “excessive request for evidence,” criticized by the official press, goes above common sense and the fact that thieves, in general, are repeat offenders. It is enough for a person to declare that “the bag of meat was found lying around” so that, sooner or later, the crime goes unpunished.
Osbel Benítez, a farmer from Manatí (Las Tunas) interviewed by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights, reported that he had also suffered the consequences of police inaction. “They slaughtered three cows on January 12. I made the accusation and they haven’t done anything. The police do whatever they want,” he lamented, despite having provided all the evidence.
“It seems that it was a matter of patronage,” Benítez explained, alluding to the fact that several criminals are under the protection of the police.
Meanwhile, local meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture are increasingly frustrating. The authorities attribute the ease of committing crimes to the lack of control of the livestock herds. “It is the absolute responsibility of the owner,” say the managers, who wash their hands of the problem when the animal is not registered, despite the fines of 10,000 pesos and the confiscation that is imposed on those who violate the accounting of their livestock.
“If the livestock is counted, the person must report to the police when an event occurs,” they point out. But if the cow or horse is not listed in the state registry, it is not even worth the complaint. According to the newspaper, the animal does not exist, and neither does the crime.
For Yudith Almeida, the head of the National Livestock Registry, if a producer doesn’t have the “marker” — with which the animal’s skin is identified — or the ear tag, he is committing a serious “indiscipline,” and this exonerates the authorities from the damage.
The official lists the sanctions that can be applied to violators: 500 pesos and confiscation if there are no documents that prove the accounting of the animal in the registry; 10,000 pesos if the declaration of birth of major livestock is violated; 10,000 if a death is not declared; 10,000 for each missing cow or horse; 5,000 for each unauthorized process of sale or transfer; and 20,000 if the update of data for each animal is not already registered.
Given the legal complexity of explaining that he was the victim of a theft, “the farmer often prefers not to testify,” Almeida acknowledges.
Not even the official numbers can hide the situation: 82,445 cases of theft and slaughter of animals in 2022 — almost 2.5 times more than in 2021, when 33,690 were registered — of which 45,315 correspond to cattle and 37,130 to horses. The most affected provinces are Villa Clara (12,243 cases), then Holguín (9,825) and finally Matanzas (2,926).
Meanwhile, the government is promoting alternatives to relieve the deficit of meat and milk in the country, such as raising water buffalo. In Las Tunas, since 2013, a herd of 765 head has been supplied, but the farmers don’t accept these animals,” according to the president of the company in charge of breeding, Leonel Ávila.
Optimistic, Ávila says that buffalo ’have more advantages than cattle,” and he gives their reproductive capacity as an example. In addition, he points out that their milk production is progressing well, and “everything they eat is quickly converted into live weight.” But he acknowledges that these animals “require greater volumes of food.” However, the breeding of large-scale buffalo on the Island is, according to the farmer himself, on the plane of mere possibility.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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