No Grass for the Family Cow

Yenisel Rodriguez

Photo: Angel Yu

Iriel, a campesino from Holguin Province, can’t find grazing land for his two rather lean cows, Pinta and Linda. This is a serious concern since these animals ensure milk for his family at a time when a pound of powdered milk costs up to 30 pesos – exorbitant by Cuban standards.

Up until recently, Pinta and Linda grazed on land owned by the cattle cooperative where Iriel works. He would bring them daily without thinking that this in any way affected the profitability of that coop. With its vast stretches of land dedicated to pastureland — but with only about 200 heads of cattle — grassland is what this Holguin cooperative has more than enough of.

Nonetheless, one fine morning the cooperative’s manager informed the workers of a paradoxical resolution issued by the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP). In it these administrators strictly prohibited the workers from grazing their cows on land controlled by “their cooperative.”

But this wasn’t the worst part; the problem is that for more than a nine mile radius there don’t exist any other fields where Iriel can feed his livestock.

Many cooperative members suspect that the resolution is a pretext to force them to turn over their livestock to the state.

In this area of Holguin, like in all those places where people can somehow have a milk cow, this dairy product winds up being a basic staple in the family diet.

This is different from urban areas, where only those who enjoy a certain degree of economic well-being can assure milk for their families daily. Average city dwellers see milk as a luxury they can only enjoy under very well-justified circumstances.

That’s why I doubled over laughing when Iriel’s wife offered me a glass of coffee with milk when I went over to their house. She politely said: “Young man, have a cup of coffee with milk. Sorry but we don’t have anything else to offer.”

In turn, everyone in the house immediately broke out laughing when I explained that for someone from Havana such an offer exceeded the most demanding gastronomic expectations.

What grace was displayed when offering me that cottage treat…that cordial appetizer. But now the Cuban government has barged in, attempting to manage everything as a part of its oppressive machinery.

What to me suggests self-management and self-sufficiency is considered by the state controllers as privilege and monopolization. They’re not satisfied with having lost in oblivion the promise to turn over cooperative property to those organization’s workers; instead, they’re now also sabotaging the survival strategies of those same workers who have had to struggle against the very forces of nature to sustain themselves in that rural world.

“Here we’re all the property of those on top,” Iriel told me, pointing to the route to return to the nearest city.

While walking back, the sweeping fields of the cattle cooperative began to fade from sight. The livestock grazing there seemed, from a distance, like small slowly moving dots interrupting the dense green of the plain.

I had therefore confirmed the fear of the campesinos: The resolution is no more than a strategy to monopolize milk produced in the country.  To the Cuban state, the self-production of milk appears to be conceived of as dissidence.

Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.


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