The Reasons for One Without Reasons / Fernando Dámaso

The problem of cattle has been a major problem in Cuba, for decades. In 1958 Cuba was in fourth place worldwide in cattle per capita (six million head of cattle for six million five hundred thousand inhabitants, for a 0.90), surpassed only by Uruguay (3.01), Argentina (2.39) and Brazil (1.01) — as a matter of fun facts the U.S. had 0.59 and Spain 0.11 — and Cuba is now one of the bottom, with the aggravating circumstance that most people do not eat beef. In the early fifties, 930,000 cattle a year were slaughtered for human consumption.

The media writes and speaks of the loss and illegal slaughter of livestock across the country, as well as existing lack of control of cattle (although there is a so-called Livestock Control Center CENCOPAN). Some sobering figures: until the end of August this year, 22,980 heads of cattle were lost due to theft and illegal slaughter; in the first half of the year, CENCOPAN recorded only 1,725 births of cattle in the whole country, when in the Camagüey municipality of Guáimaro alone, an operation detected 1,500. Clearly on the whole cattle ranching is uncontrolled. In Pinar del Rio there are an estimated 52,000 head; in Sancti Spiritus, 30,000, etc.. There also more than 26,000 landless livestock owners whose animals graze on the streets or in uncontrolled areas; Camagüey has lost so far 115,000 pesos because of theft and illegal slaughter, while from malnutrition and other causes, the losses exceed three million pesos. As you can see, the picture is rather gloomy.

The reasons are self-explanatory: before, the farmer took care of their cattle from birth, deciding what to do with them at all times (how many to use for milking, how many to use as breeding stock, what to sell, what sacrifice, etc.) Now, these decisions are the responsibility of the State, prohibiting their slaughter (including for own consumption) and the free sale of their meat, tying the owners’ hands and feet, giving them no real incentive to care for and develop something that, in practice, is only theoretically theirs.

In addition, of the thousands of butchers and meat outlets that existed (where the first pound of meat sold for 35 cents (U.S. dollars) and the second at 27), most have disappeared, and the only beef some State stores will offer at 3.55 CUC to the pound of flesh from the second grinding, frozen (equivalent to 30% of the average monthly wage of a worker). With no mass market at prices affordable to the public, and few places of sale, it is virtually impossible to acquire beef legally, which has served as a breeding ground for the development of an illegal black market, where it exists and is offered at lower prices.

These protracted negative phenomena have been intended primarily to deal with even more repressive measures and control over the cattle, a practice that has proved ineffective for years. As long as farmers are not really masters of their livestock and act as such, and beef will not, once again, become a daily part of the diet of Cubans (as it was until the early years of the sixties), the big problem will continue without a solution.

November 19 2011