14ymedio, Havana | 2 Septiembre 2021 — A year ago, the King of Cheese went jail and was presented as a criminal on national television for the alleged crime of illicit economic activity. Today, free of all guilt, the rancher Raúl Abreu Gómez, from the province of Artemisa, reappears like the phoenix to dedicate himself to his cheese factory again.
Faced with the accusations leveled against him in 2020, Abreu Gómez, who is a chemical engineer and has a master’s degree in Science in Engineering in Biotechnological Processes and worked for ten years at the Scientific Pole, insists that he has always complied with the required milk deliveries to the State . “In the last three years we have delivered about 30,000 liters each year. This year we are already going for 20,000, and I believe that by the end of December we can double that,” he said.
The local newspaper, El Artemiseño, notes that on July 10 of last year the police carried out a search of the Santa Ana farm, belonging to the Ciro Redondo Cooperative, in the municipality of Caimito and proceeded to dismantle the cheese factory that mainly supplied three restaurants specializing in Italian food in the municipality of Playa, in Havana. They then alleged that the producer delivered 70 liters of milk each day to the State, versus the 150 he was required to provide.
Confiscated from Abreu Gómez were 316 liters of milk, 140 liters of chlorine, two weights, jugs, molds, industrial steel tanks, a nylon sealing machine along with other work implements, and 353 pounds of cheese made by him and his sons Gerardo and Luis Daniel.
After a year and after what El Artemiseño describes as nothing more than “regrettable mistakes,” “far from being daunted, once the truth began to make its way, Raúl decided to resume the profession he can no longer leave aside.” The local newspaper does not specify under what conditions the farmer’s cheese factory will continue to operate.
The rancher is willing to train those who want to dedicate themselves to the manufacture of cheeses to supply the State Commerce and Gastronomy units. He has 40 cattle but does not have authorization to market the meat.
Abreu Gómez says that he has visited several countries such as Canada, the United States, Italy, Costa Rica and Spain and the best pizzas of his life have been eaten at the Los Aliados pizzeria in Caimito. “I would love to produce cheese for her, rather than for the [stores that sell only] in MLC (freely convertible currency).”
For decades, the marketing of dairy products, beef and other derivatives of cattle has been a state monopoly. Owners of cows are not allowed to sell cheese, milk, or butter.
Restrictions associated with beef cattle in Cuba have led to a convoluted network of tricks to get the meat and products derived from cows, among which are tying the animal to the railroad lines so that the train kills them and thus enable making use of their remains, or declare as males many of the calves that are born on their farms to avoid having to report and deliver the milk and calves they have to the State.
Abreu’s case was very popular, not only because the raid on his farm was broadcast on national television, but because it was seen as a lesson to entrepreneurs who exceeded certain limits of prosperity and commercial reach. For other producers of cheese, yogurt and other dairy derivatives, the operation against this engineer acted as a wake-up call to leave the sector.
For months, cheese could hardly be bought in Havana’s informal market, and the price of a pound quadrupled in less than a year. From the 25 pesos it cost at that time, it currently exceeds 100 and, even with money in hand, it is difficult to find this product.
Sectors such as pizzerias and coffee shops also multiplied the prices of their offers with cheese and the product, imported from the Netherlands, Germany or Uruguay, was reduced to sale in foreign currency stores. Currently a kilogram of gouda cheese costs more than 10 dollars in these places and in the informal market, a block of a little more than 3 kg reaches 100 dollars.
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