I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was relaxing at the top of a tall peak called Puerto Boniato on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba when I spotted them: three assassins, a long machete and their soon-to-be-dead victim.
They carried their victim in a bag. Its legs squirmed and flailed as the three men took it out, hung the empty bag on the side of the tree and prepared for the slaughter. Just moments before their arrival, my gaze had been focused in the opposite direction at the beautiful view of the tropical mountainside.
My friend and I had been taking photographs of the varieties of palm trees, the tiny buildings that dotted the city of Santiago and the faint silhouette of the horizon in the distance, where the Sierra Maestra mountain range converged with the Caribbean Sea. The vista of the alluring landscape and diversity of life was before me; the three assassins and their victim cast a dark shadow from behind.
I winced when the shirtless man held the victim between his legs and raised up his machete. The man with the blue shirt held its kicking legs; the third shirtless man sat and watched the spectacle. Fear came over me. “No,” I said to my friend. “They’re going to kill it!” I said, part of me asking if it was really true, part of me wanting to remain in denial.
I turned my head back to the tranquil scenery, hoping to avoid this intrusion of death. But curiosity caused me to look back again. The machete lowered; blood splattered; the kicking legs slowly went limp. “Oh my God!” I said. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to run and descend from this savage mountain. But inside, my curiosity grew. I took out my camera and slowly, cautiously, began to take pictures. One of the men then motioned for me to come closer. I stood up and walked slowly towards the scene of the crime.
The victim, now lifeless, was a lamb. The men hung its body from a rope they had tied to the tree and continued with their ritual. I stared at its empty gaze. This was the first time I ever witnessed such a thing. All three men were from Santiago. They said they were going to eat the lamb. One of them told me it was worth 100 Cuban Convertible Pesos, a price I later learned was inflated at least three times over. “Do you want it?” he asked me, as the flaccid lamb dangled before me. “No, gracias,” I quickly replied.
Minutes before, I could hardly look in this direction. Now, I stood inches from the slain body, stunned by what was before me, a bit relieved that I had confronted my fear of this unsightly death. The urban, artistic atmosphere of Havana seemed so distant from this place.
The following day, my friend and I were on board a crowded transport truck on the way to an outlying town. Halfway through the trip, a man climbed onto the truck with two big, heavy bags. One of them was full of mangoes; the other began to move. I looked at the opening of the bag and saw the small head of a lamb peeking out. I wanted to save it, but I knew that I could not spare the poor animal his fate. This is just the way things are in the countryside of Cuba.