To Many Cubans the Cheese King of Artemisa Is a Hero, Not a Criminal

Photos from a police raid on The Cheese King of Artemesia. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, August 31, 2020 ‚ The Cheese King, a cattle rancher from Artemisa province who was arrested and charged with illicit economic activity, has found solidarity on social networks after a Saturday news broadcast on Cuban Television in which a police raid on his factory was reported.

The raid took place on the Santa Ana farm, a property belonging to the Ciro Redondo Cooperative, in the town of Caimito. The factory’s main customers were three Italian restaurants in Playa, a town on the outskirts of Havana.

“Whose cows are they anyway? Who feeds them? These guys are useless. They take away his cows and close his cheese business when they should instead be encouraging him to produce cheese, to produce milk. You have to stop this now,” comments Juan Armand Cureaux.

The farmer, who owns forty-two cows, is alleged to have delivered only 70 liters of milk a day to the state instead of the 152 liters he was required to turn over.

For decades, the state has held a monopoly on the sale of dairy, beef and other cattle-based products. Cattle owners are not allowed to sell cheese, milk, butter or meat from their animals. They are also not allowed to slaughter animals without prior government authorization. An official inspector must first certify there is a need to slaughter an animal and then ensure that all its body parts are delivered to state-owned entities.

“Cubans are waiting on production results while the government is shutting down production [when it should be encouraging it.] That’s why we don’t have anything, why no one wants to produce. These people invest in and grow their businesses and you [officials] come, stick your noses into it and take everything away. Support them and keep some of the results for the benefit of the people,” says Alejandro Reyes.

Restrictions on Cuban cattle raising have led to a complicated framework of tricks to gain control of meat from the animal and any other products derived from it. One of these involves tying an animal to railroad tracks so that it is killed by an oncoming train, leaving the owner free to make use of the carcass. Another involves declaring newborn female calves to be male, thus avoiding having to report and hand over to the state any milk or offspring they later produce.

In the raid agents seized 316 liters of milk, 353 pounds of cheese, 140 liters of chlorine, two weights, jugs, molds, industrial steel tanks, a nylon sealing machine and other implements.

“I would give this man the biggest abandoned cheese factory in Cuba. I would create new jobs and there would be no shortage of cheese. These people only want to keep Cubans from getting ahead,” says Lachi Maye Aguilar, to which Manuel Mons adds, “If that man had been able to legalize his business, he would be the biggest cheese producer in Cuba. But, no, you have to shut everything down and limit people!”

Another outraged user, Reinier Rivera, writes, “They [the state] can’t even provide people with that much milk. They’re shameless! Why don’t they arrest the company directors and the government leaders who steal. Those are things that do affect the country’s economy and the people. They should shame them on television the way they do with private business owners.”

Last month, after announcing new economic measures to address the pandemic and opening new hard currency stores, the regime launched a campaign against small producers and private business owners, whom it blames for hoarding and scarcity.

Most private businesses that offer dairy-based products often turn to the underground market. Artemisa province is the main supplier of dairy products to Havana’s black market, which provides the glass of milk that many families have for breakfast as well as the cheese used in privately owned pizzerias.

The raid in Artemisa took place a few weeks after the government announced that that it was preparing to authorize the formation of small and medium-sized private companies, SMEs, which supposedly will be able to import and export though state intermediaries, thus contributing to the development of the private sector economy.


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