Exiled Cuban Businessmen Come to Havana for Its Horses / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 18 February 2015 — The horse — like the language and guitar — were brought to Cuba from Spain and are today a part of the national culture. It is impossible to forget the role the animal has played in Cuban literature, music and the economy. And history discussions would be incomplete without some mention of Mambisa horsemanship.

The Cuban Revolution, however, marked a turning point in the development of equine culture. Shortly after 1959 Isidious (Fidel Castro’s white horse), Azbache (the same owner’s black horse) and other thoroughbreds which were beautiful regardless of color were shipped to the Managua breeding facility located next to a tank base of the same name on the outskirts of Havana. The rationale was that on their backs the animals bore the symbolic sweat of their owners’ buttocks and, therefore, had to be protected with the same vigilance as any national treasure.

But as we now know, these national treasures perished. Insidious died of a heart attack and Azabache (either because he was beautiful or because he was black) had his image stamped onto a photograph which, like a majordomo, greets generals and tourists at the entrance to the above-mentioned facility.

It was then that the historic, aesthetic and hysterical leader, saddened by the loss of his steed, authorized the importing of twelve different breeds of horses from which to select his Bucefalo, encourage the breeding of horses, export them overseas either as animals or semen, and crossbreed them with local stock.

As a result, horse breeding took off and today the country can boast of more than 300,000 thoroughbreds scattered among various farms. Most are managed by a state conglomerate, Flora and Fauna, under the direction of the Revolutionary commandant Guillermo García Frías. Some are raised on Cuban plantations such as El Alacazar — located in Contrammaestre, Santiago de Cuba — which is owned by Señora María Antonia Puyol Bravo (known as La Doña).

Horses are exported in a prescribed manner. From El Alcazar, come purebred Spanish horses. From Escaleras de Jaruco (in Mayabeque province), there are also Spanish thoroughbreds. From the Belen farm an American breed, Morgan, is exported. From Rancho San Vicente (20 kilometers south of the city of Camaguey) they are Arabian purebreds. From Guatiba (Matanzas province) there are Creole pintos. From Escambray come Appaloosas. And from Rancho Azucacero (Artemesia province) come jumping and show horses that have been imported from Holland since 2005. These are auctioned off at the Equestrian Club in Lenin Park’s riding school during the Remate Élite Habana, which takes place every year in the Cuban capital.

There is talk of a trail of tainted money behind the scenes at the auction, but no one has been able to prove it much less conduct an audit. Cuba’s problem is not corruption but the immunity of certain corrupt officials who — as one might expect — are so high up that they are beyond the judicial reach of the comptroller general.

Every January more and more foreigners attend this event, which this year attracted exiled Cuban businessmen, who were much more interested in showing off their lifestyles than indulging their newfound passion for horses.

Far be it from me to judge but I know that — as my grandmother used to say — “crises are moments of great opportunity” and these compatriots travelled to Cuba to defend, in their own way, the right of every Cuban to own his or her own horse.

18 February 2015