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.