Three Assassins in Santiago

Kelly Knaub

Three assassins and their victim.

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.

A ritual slaughter.

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.


Kelly Knaub: My interest in journalism comes from a desire to write, tell stories and appease my endless curiosity about the world. I spent five years teaching English to immigrants and refugees in New York City before embarking on my Masters degree in journalism at New York University last fall. I previously lived in Mexico for two years and traveled all over Central America. My experience as a human rights observer in a Zapatista village in Chiapas inspired me to become a journalist. By writing for Havana Times, I hope to contribute to a broader perspective of Cuba.

9 thoughts on “Three Assassins in Santiago

  • Humans have been slaughtering animals for food since the dawn of time. This still happens even in urban areas in ethnic neighbourhoods.

  • Kelly, its a goat/chivo. Cuba is carne con carne!!!
    Marek, you are right.
    Hubert, you are a useful idiot for envirochondriacs, you are PC eurotrash, yes?
    grok, grok, grok, you are either a meat and potatos right winger just messing around with the lefties or you have been asleep for the last 100 years. (“hardscrabble stuff” sounds like a limie left winger)

  • Meat comes from animals. Modern humans in capitalist society eat more meat than most farmers probably have thruout history — but probably the same or less than pre-historic big-game hunting peoples did (I’m not even mentioning the “quality” of the meat here). Given our biological history, there’s probably a “happy medium” ‘window’ somewhere, for our species — which certainly won’t be found by us under capitalism, with its incessant need to relentlessly sell everyone everything all the time till everything collapses.

    Only under socialism — and later communism — will people find any possible “happy medium” when it comes to eating other animals. Perhaps our glorious communist future lies in blissful harmony with all other sentient creatures. Who can foresee our future there..? These poor guys here can’t even really be classified as existing under socialist relations whatsoever — hell: they’re slaughtering one poor animal with the most basic of tools in a public park! This is very, very primitive, hardscrabble stuff going on here. These people eat however they can, apparently. Socialism lies somewhere else.

  • Love your writing style. Great article. At the beggining I thought you were speaking about a human, then I realized it was about a lamb. While I was living in the Dominican Republic and visited my grandparents in the country side; I witness things like this all the time. It is very graphic.


  • Whoa, folks. I’m not talking about eating / not eating meat, or even animal cruelty. My concern here is in how those who write about “other” cultures do so with certain value judgements firmly in mind (or heart). I’ve worked with youth in a North-South cross-cultural context. The one word that will forever haunt me, coming from some youth, was “weird” to describe something different from their own cultural reality.

  • Dear Marek, one more point if I may and how can I put it gently? I think you are the emotional one attached to outdated concepts.
    With the hugely wasteful amount of energy needed to produce the same amount of meat in comparison to producing vegetarian food, how on earth can you come up with a sustainable way of feeding an ever increasing human population?
    Your right to kill whenever you will does not add up.

    I think the only conclusion is, killing animals for food ultimately kills humans. Please think about it

    Yours in solidarity
    P.S.: Yes, I did grow up in the countryside

  • Marek,
    not everyone who objects to cruelty eats meat. That is why I do not. Please do not make assumptions. Thank you

  • Kelly Knaub


    Your are a very skillful journalist.
    I thoroughly enjoyed how you wrote this article.
    I think it a blessing that you can speak Spanish as well as English.

    Bob Cowdery
    Spokane, WA-USA

  • Kelly…. how can I put this gently…. from this story one might assume that you are a lifelong urbanite who, like most people in a modern society, is far removed from the source of your food. Supermarket meat certainly doesn’t look like a cow, or a chicken, but hey – there’s a reality out there, and you found it. “This is just the way things are…” in most parts of the world….

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