Thieves and Bureaucrats Make Life Impossible for Cuban Ranchers

Faced with permanent harassment on his farm in Cárdenas, Ernesto is almost thinking of selling his animals and abandoning the country

If you start to do the math, Ernesto has dedicated almost 20 years to a fa that is not actually his / Radio 26

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Julio César Contreras, Matanzas, 5 June 2024 — Ernesto has had Spanish nationality since 2008 and in recent years he has traveled to Spain a few times, but he always returns. In Cuba, specifically in Cárdenas, Matanzas, he manages a livestock farm in which he also cultivates some land with vegetables which would be very difficult for him to part with. Until now, as a producer, he had been able to get by – although he acknowledges that “it has not been easy” – but the situation that the peasants are experiencing has led him to consider selling his animals and permanently leaving the country.

“A few years ago, I managed, with a lot of effort, to obtain three caballerias  of land [roughly 100 acres total]. I even had to go see the delegate of Agriculture in Matanzas so that they would give me this property in usufruct [a form of leasing]. After many efforts I achieved it. However, my goal developing livestock has cost me dearly,” the 58-year-old farmer confesses to this newspaper. 

Between cows, bulls and calves, Ernesto has a total of 67 heads of cattle on his farm, distributed in two barns or dairy houses. “I initially thought of dedicating part of the land to livestock production and the other part to the cultivation of some vegetables, but the difficulties in having the necessary resources have prevented me from moving forward,” he explains. 

According to the rancher, about half of his pasture, with useful land, remains unused. “Where can I buy machetes, rakes or gloves to deal with the weeds? Where are the supplies that guarantee that we guajiros can take care of the land and the animals? These years I have seen everything: campesino stores, projects with foreign financing, sales of some products in MLC (freely convertible currency). But these are just insufficient attempts to help producers and they have all come to nothing.

Between cows, bulls and calves, Ernesto has a total of 67 cattle on his farm / 14ymedio

Other problems keep Ernesto in suspense, and one is that, despite having water for the animals, edible pastures do not grow well in the area and the consequences can be disastrous for the cattle and for the rancher’s pocket. “If one of my animals gets sick, I have to buy the medicines on the informal market, at whatever price they want to charge, because either there are none or they are very difficult to obtain from the State,” laments the man.

“We cooperative members are required to comply with all production plans but, in the years that I have been here, no one has come to ask me what I need to build the dairy farms, to feed my cattle or to keep the lands healthy and in good condition. I have never wanted them to give me anything, but it is not fair that they abandon the farmers like that,” he says, annoyed. 

Faced with the dilemma between complying with the rules or surviving and saving their business, many ranchers end up making deals outsidthe normal legal ways. “These years I have been able to escape by selling some animals, but the matter becamcomplicated with the livestock census that began at the beginning of this year. The ‘orientation’ is that you cannot sell any animals until they finish counting everything, although people always manage to sell one or two cows,” he says. 

Even so, the guajiro reflects, the management of his farm has begun to give him “more headaches than satisfaction,” since it has become an unprofitable task and the State “does not give the campesinos much room for action. I supposedly own the cattle, but I can only slaughter two a year, with prior authorization from the cooperative and the Agriculture Delegation. If I make a minor slaughter contract, I have to look for a vehicle to transport the animals to the slaughterhouse. After everything I spend on time and procedures, they pay me per pound of meat at one-tenth of what is quoted in the informal market,” he laments.

“Some guajiros end up looking for a veterinarian to certify the death of an animal due to illness, removing it from the livestock registry and selling it,” he points out. 

Faced with the dilemma between complying with the rules or surviving and saving their business, many ranchers end up making deals outside what is legal / 14ymedio

Ernesto interrupts the conversation for a moment to answer a phone call. He is contacted by a seller who has obtained fencing wire for 1,200 pesos per meter. “Who supports those prices doing everything through the state channel?” But they are expenses that he must incur, since his animals could end up in the hands of an illegal slaughterer.

“This is getting as dark as a pitch. In all these years I have been robbed twice and the worst thing is that, when it happens, the authorities blame the farmers for not having the land fenced and letting the cattle roam. But if you are going to cut wood to build a fence, the Agroforestry Company delays your permit or denies it. If you file a report for theft, the Police are likely never find the criminals,” claims the guajiro

If you start to do the math, Ernesto has dedicated almost 20 years to a farm that is not actually his, since the land belongs to the Stateand the State can take it from him at any time. “I am exposed to shortages and problems of all kinds, including thieves who constantly try to do their own thing. I have grown tired of meetings that solve nothing and bureaucrats who live off the sacrifice of others,” he says. “Sometimes they make me feel like getting rid of all this and going to another country. That would be my biggest sacrifice.”

Translated by Norma Whiting


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