14ymedio, Madrid, 24 April 2023 — The numerous cases of theft and slaughter of livestock that producers in Cuba have been reporting for months and that the official press of the provinces reviews in the balance sheets of the sector finally have national figures that demonstrate the seriousness of the problem. In the last year the figure was almost 2.5 times higher than in 2021, with Villa Clara, Holguín and Matanzas in the lead.
Throughout the Island in 2022, there were 82,445 cases of theft and slaughter, of which 45,315 corresponded to cattle and 37,130 to horses. The increase is considerable compared to the numbers from the previous year, with the loss of 33,690 animals: 17,144 cattle and 16,546 horses.
By provinces, Villa Clara leads the sad ranking, with 12,243 cases compared to 4,079 the previous year, three times as many. In addition, five of the ten most affected municipalities on the Island belong to that province. In second place is Holguín, with 9,825 lost last year, doubling the figure of 2021, with 4,655. Last on the podium is Matanzas, which also makes a considerable leap from 2,926 to 8,159 losses.
“That represents 16,000 tons of meat, which in turn is 5,000 tons of boneless meat. This is equivalent to two pounds of meat lost only by theft and slaughter” for each of the 11 million Cubans, Adrián Gutiérrez Velázquez, director of livestock of the Ministry of Agriculture, told the official newspaper, which on Monday published the first part of a special dedicated to this evil that affects first producers and finally Cuban consumers, who can barely access this type of protein due to the scarcity in the markets and, consequently, its high price when it is found, mostly “under the table.”
In the text, the director of a state livestock company in Cienfuegos, Denis Sixto Rodríguez, warns of the dizzying increase in robberies. “In the company you had five to seven thefts and slaughters in a year. Since the end of last year, the numbers have been increasing. In November, there were 29; in December, 27; and in January and February, 40 animals each month,” he says.
In his opinion, it is not only the price of the sale that is lost, but the investment of at least three years of work involved in raising livestock. The province of Cienfuegos went from 3,017 cases of theft and slaughter in 2021 to 7,082 in 2022, and it is the fourth most affected in the country.
Another characteristic case is that of Pinar del Río — which goes from 1,458 crimes of this type to 4,282. There, the animals traditionally grow better in the pastures, grazing freely. “Here you have to go out on the highway if you want to take meat to Havana,” adds Sixto Rodríguez. But the increase in crime is forcing us to change the custom and put the animals inside, or we are forced to stand guard. “This is very complicated; it is not humanly possible to stay up all night and then leave at 4 or 5 in the morning to go to work.” If they decide, on the contrary, to lock up the animals, the quality worsens, deaths occur and production drops, since livestock are not accustomed to that kind of life.
In addition, cases of aggression or simply the fear of them cause casualties in an already complicated sector. “Some policemen arrested a thief with sacks of meat, and when he was cornered he threatened them with a machete. If the officers hadn’t taken off, they wouldn’t have been able to tell the story,” he adds. Another of those consulted for the report states that “the police are not giving this issue all the attention that it deserves,” a situation that forces the ranchers into “night patrol.”
Gutiérrez Velázquez warns of the implications of the current situation. It is not a short-term problem, in the opinion of the director of the Ministry, and it will have consequences on future livestock because it affects the quality of life of the cattle and, therefore, the taste of the meat. “It’s like we have them in a concentration camp,” he says — and the drought is the last straw. “The animals that are shut in from three or four in the afternoon until the next day deteriorate. They killed 50,000 of our three million livestock, but the great concern is the issue of having to lock them up,” he insists.
The case of horses is also worrying. The Cubadebate report recounts the case of Humberto Hernández Malagón, who has fruit trees and cows and needed his mare to move the merchandise. “I used to leave her tied up under a bush, in the field. One of my children went for a walk and everything was fine, but when I went to look for her she was gone. Although we followed the trail, we didn’t find anything, not even bones,” he says.
The rancher invested more than 20,000 pesos ($833) in buying posts and wiring to fence his land, which the thieves trampled on with impunity. A little later they stole a team of oxen from a neighbor. “It was money that I lost, because every week they were robbing me two and three times to get the animals,” he adds. Now he has built ditches over three feet deep, but the fear does not go away.
“If they take away my oxen, I will retire,” says another farmer, who remembers only one time, in the 80s, “as bad as this. They come and blatantly steal them from you, to your face. They took a cow from the field and I couldn’t find any trace. I called the police and they never showed up. I went to the station to look for the tag they give you to be able to take the animal off the livestock registry and it was a total mess. I went four times, and the deadline almost expired and then you even have to pay a fine if that happens.”
Translated by Regina Anavy
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.