Growing Theft on Cuban Farms Demotivates Producers

Old man Aldo’s cow next to his hut before the animal was stolen.

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

HAVANA TIMES – There are many factors that conspire against Cuban farmers, from bureaucracy, incompetent state-led intermediaries, defaulting banks, ACOPIO’s monopoly of the sector, state control of cooperatives, the inexistence of a stable and competitive supply market and even bans on buying and selling land.

It’s not for nothing that Cuba, with great agricultural potential, is far from being a leader in this field and needs to import 70% of the food we consume or should be consuming, most of which could be produced in Cuba. It’s also the reason we live in constant crisis and poverty. However, the thing that’s come to light in recent months and concerned us the most out of all the problems the sector faces, is higher theft rates, because it ties farmers hands. Current crop and animal theft is borderline terrorism for farmers.

Old man Aldo is already over 80 years old, he might even be 90, and he lives alone in his shack. Similar to the one Fidel describes in “History will Absolve Me”, and his house has been the same ever since he was born. Surrounded by animals, looking after his cow, giving his pigs palm nuts in their rustic pens. This is the very same form of agriculture that the Government is promoting now because of a lack of fodder and supplies, but it’s something he’s practiced during his entire life because it’s a tradition and he’s resistant to change, not because it’s his strategy.

His wife passed away last year because of COVID-19, one of their sons was killed during his military service in Angola and the other son is living in Havana, wishing his old man would leave the plot of land and come with him. But the rural elderly cling to the earth, sometimes like the hermit crab clings to his shell.

It would take me way too long to tell you all the robberies Aldo has fallen victim to, but the last two are enough to give you an idea: just over two months ago, he took his two cows to graze in the pasture near the river and it was already time to eat lunch. He walked a little towards a cousin’s house, so he could look after his animals while he ate lunch, but he barely moved away, looking back every now and again to keep an eye on them, but it was too late.

Two thieves came out from behind some bushes, they’d been watching him, and one took the rope of one of the cows and ran off with it full speed, while the other beat it with a branch. Aldo turned around to try and stop them, but those cruel-hearted men most certainly knew that the old man had difficulty walking and would never catch up to them. They were never found.

I’m sure lots of people saw them around taking the cow but nobody dares to say anything and identify them because people are very afraid of thieves and the reprisals if they report them.

A month hadn’t passed since then before a group of thieves, maybe the same ones or different ones, went to his shack in the dark of night to steal the cow and calves he had left. They threatened to hurt him if he came out, and that’s how they were able to kill the cow and take its meat. The calves were locked up in a smaller iron pen and they threatened the frightened old man to give them the key so they could steal them too, but he was unshakeable and didn’t give it to them. Luckily, they settled for the meat and left.

A few days later, another old farmer called Rey, who coincidentally lives “a rooster’s call” away from Aldo’s house, who is so bent over by old age and intense work in the fields, travels around in his low oxen-pulled wagon, also fell prey to unstoppable thieves.

He travels everywhere in his wagon, and everybody knows him. But he was on a hill chopping firewood on the fateful day a young man came up to Rey. Visually impaired, he thought it was a great-nephew from a nearby ranch that had come to play a bad joke on him. But instead of his relative, it was a thief who quickly got into the wagon and set off with the oxen.

Search patrols on horseback set out and the oxen were finally found, five days later, on a distant hill, thin with hunger, but still alive. He was lucky to get them back because the reality is this rarely happens.

Another example is my neighbor Raul, who has a cart and two beautiful steeds, which he supports his family with by transporting medicines to drugstores, thanks to the transport deficit. A few weeks ago, he woke up in the morning and couldn’t understand how they opened the lock on the airtight pen he kept them in. Both animals had been stolen.

He searched for them and only found the remains of one of them, that had been killed and the meat taken. He gave up on the search for the other one and sold things and asked to borrow money to buy another horse, because he has no other way to make a living.

I myself have planted corn and while waiting for it to be the perfect time to harvest it to make tamales, woke up one morning to find that the largest ears of corn had been stolen. Just like the banana tree I have, which I posted some photos on social media and wrote an article about the first bunch, (which I couldn’t eat because the thieves got to it first), whose fruit is stolen from time to time, and in order for me, the owner, to enjoy it, I have to cut them off when they’re still quite green. If I hesitate a little, they’ll disappear.

I could give you many more examples, but these are enough to make you understand why, no matter how much a farmer wants to produce, they won’t be working for the fun of it, for somebody else to enjoy the benefits of their hard labor. Or under this climate of fear.

Most farmers continue to sow, but of course they take this risk factor into consideration, with this limitation resting on their heads like a Damocles’ sword. There’s no doubt that this is another factor that plays against the prosperity and excellence of Cuban agriculture.

Read more from Osmel Ramirez’s diary here.

2 thoughts on “Growing Theft on Cuban Farms Demotivates Producers

  • The agricultural policy of the Cuban Government is failing. Underproduction is a huge problem. A fundamental re-set is required.
    However I currently reside in the very much more capitalist U.K.
    Rural theft is rife. It is a modern plague in this country.
    Ask any farm owner.
    Livestock, vehicles, tractors, machinery – If it ain’t bolted down, it flies…….
    Rural crime is an absolute menace. And what do the cops do?
    Nothing – coz they say they don’t have the finance to do anything about it. The whole budget goes on combating the drugs trade…..
    This is absolutely not a Cuba-specific problem – ask anyone who lives in rural England.

  • The sad economic situation in Cuba continually worsens day by day. Ordinary Cubans trying simply to survive, not necessarily enjoying life but simply trying to endure the harsh circumstances they find themselves in. Two recent HT articles paint a deplorable, desperate economic malady to this end.

    The first “Growing Theft on Cuban Farms Demotivates Producers” by Osmel May 30, 2022 outlines how some aged farmers trying desperately to hold on to their agricultural possessions are at wits end. Thieves steal their livelihoods for what? These thieves probably in no better economic situation than the poverty stricken farmer see an easy opportunity to steal a valuable commodity – meat, which translates into life sustaining protein for easy sale to hungry Cubans.

    No doubt these thieves have no economic way of legitimately obtaining such a prized possession as an entire cow, horse, ox or other protein laden animal. It is worth the risk. So, the poor farmer, though aged, not only must literally guard his valuable animals at a tremendous financial cost, but there is no logical incentive to add to his herd because s/he has no way of thwarting thieves. The potential loss, the stress, the aggravation simply does not warrant expanding an agricultural business in order to help sustain the community. The communist government is of no help.

    Osmel writes: “I could give you many more examples, but these are enough to make you understand why, no matter how much a farmer wants to produce, they won’t be working for the fun of it, for somebody else to enjoy the benefits of their hard labor.” And who exactly is enjoying the benefits of farmers’ hard labor, stress, and aggravation besides the thieves? Those communist government officials sitting in their air conditioned offices dictating to farmers what to produce, how to produce, where to produce and if a cow goes missing, to thieves in this case, must account for the missing animal and pay the totalitarian state for “reckless” care of animals. The state wins; the farmer loses economic sustenance and willingness to survive.

    Which leads me to the second article in HT: Cuban Veteran Commits Suicide after Fine for Selling Produce, June 1, 2022 By Diario de Cuba. For this older, patriotic Angolan war veteran, a law abiding Cuban the state’s impersonal, immoral, state controlled imposition on his daily survival resulted, unfortunately, to his death by suicide.

    In the article, 83-year-old Ángel Pacheco Soublet, a loyal patriotic Cuban war veteran is simply selling a few vegetables from a cart to support himself and his ailing wife on the meager Cuban pension which literally translates into a few pesos per month. Survival is not possible from this meager amount so even at an advanced age where most retirees after serving their country loyally can sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor and service. But no, not in Cuba. He is harassed and forced to pay an exorbitant fine to the Cuban communist government for simply trying to help his sick wife to survive, let alone himself.

    In both these sorrowful situations, who benefits and who loses? Well, we clearly see the majority of Cuban elderly lose and are severely punished for actions or inactions beyond their control. And the economic callous winners, if you want to call them that, is the totalitarian communist government imposing penalties, fines, Penal Codes, laws, policies which benefit only the ones in comfortable, plush, power and their immoral actions cause horrendous suffering to the point of suicide for some, and complete hopelessness for others. The sad saga continues unabated.

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