By Ivett de las Mercedes
HAVANA TIMES – Esmeralda Rojas Soto, 65, belongs to a cooperative in the Artemisa Municipality. She has been rearing cattle for 40 years now and she sells them to the National Meat Company. Like many other farmers, she has experienced discrepancies with the manager of the slaughterhouse when it comes to the weight of her cattle.
Esmeralda Rojas: The cooperative I belong to has a contract with the National Meat Company and they keep 5% of the takings. This contract is based on a series of agreements which includes selection, transport, weighing and receiving the livestock. And of course, they have to meet health regulations.
HT: How many animals do you have and how comfortable are you financially?
ER: Right now, I have two bulls, a yoke of oxen and a cow, which gives us three liters of milk per day for our own consumption. We make a living by selling animals and it isn’t easy at all. We have seen very bleak times when there is drought and it’s hard for us to feed our cattle. Our breeding area is large, it’s in our backyard. I don’t sleep, I spend all night watching over them while I lay on a sofa that is near the backyard door. It’s been years since I’ve known what it’s like to sleep in an actual bed. I have a dog tied up in the pen, but I still don’t have peace of mind. A horse was stolen here once, and it never turned up again.
HT: What are the disagreements you have with the Slaughterhouse?
ER: I have been working as a member of this cooperative for many years. I know what class a bull or cow is by how much they weigh and how old they are. If they are first-class animals, they are sold for 16.40 Cuban pesos per kilogram, a second-class animal is sold for 12 Cuban pesos and third-class animals for 6 Cuban pesos. When you hand an animal over, you have to wait for them to bring a certificate to your house to tell you what class the bull is. Sometimes, they don’t even bring you this certificate and you only find out when you receive a cheque in your hand and see the amount.
In June, a buyer came and took a bull in a trailer. I told him that it was a first-class bull because it weighed 445 kgs and it was three years old. In the end, they wrote him off as a third-class animal, that’s to say, less money for me. I have written to several places and nobody is giving me any answers. I even went to the slaughterhouse, but you can’t go in because they say we carry bacteria, but I’m sure that if I had enough money, I could travel with the bull and be present when they weigh him.
HT: How much was the cheque for this bull that you say was a first-class animal?
ER: The cheque was written out for 4,000 pesos and I don’t agree, they had to pay me 7,000. If I know anything, it’s my work. So, I filed a complaint with the president of the cooperative, the Party, ANAP and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office. I also went to the police and they told me that they couldn’t do anything until the Chief Prosecutor’s Office reached a decision. I still haven’t received a response and I’m still going places like a headless chicken. That happened on June 23rd and we are now in September, but I’m not going to give up.
HT: So, you haven’t been able to confirm the real weight of this bull still? Have you cashed in the 4,000 peso cheque yet?
ER: I haven’t been able to do anything. The manager at the slaughterhouse told me that you can’t go in there and it is the only place with scales for this, being the owner of these animals doesn’t mean anything, he says that if we go in, we can contaminate the environment. This is the answer we get to stop us from going inside the slaughterhouse. That is to say, we have to trust what they tell us our cattle weigh and we have no way of confirming whether that is the real weight or not. The thing is that there is a huge difference between a first-class and third-class bull and we assume that this is the cut they take on the side.
HT: Is this the first time something like this has happened to you?
ER: It isn’t the first time, it took me 6 months to cash in a cheque for another bull I sold. The animal appeared with one weight on the cooperative’s records and it had another weight on the document signed by the slaughterhouse butcher. That mix-up didn’t seem to bother anyone, and I lost money. I don’t think that’s fair.
HT: Do you receive supplies from the cooperative for your work?
ER: I am a member of a cooperative, but to tell you the truth, I don’t even find out when they get boots in. When an animal gets sick, I even have to find a vet and pay them, I always keep an eye on my animals’ health and safety, the cooperative doesn’t assist me at all.
HT: Is the money you earn selling livestock enough for you to live?
ER: Of course not, I sell a bull a few times a year and only when I can. I have to survive with my husband’s retirement cheque, and he only receives 242 (under 10 USD) pesos per month and, like I told you, cover any problems that pop up.
HT: What do you do if you or your husband are the ones who get sick?
ER: To tell you the truth, I had breast cancer surgery a few years ago. I have had to suspend my treatment because I don’t have anyone to look after my husband who has bladder cancer. I do all of the housework and take care of the animals in the yard.
HT: Do you eat the meat of the livestock you breed?
ER: Good God! Everyone knows that killing cattle is banned in Cuba, even when you rear them. Because they don’t belong to you in the bigger scheme of things, but to the cooperative. I eat beef thanks to the special ration I receive because of my disease, once a month and that only lasts for two days.
HT: So, you’ve decided not to cash in this cheque even though it has an expiration date…
ER: I know that it is hard for someone to understand why I insist on demanding fair payment for my bull’s weight, but I’m not the only one this is has happened to, other farmers have experienced the same thing and they haven’t persisted. I’m convinced that weight by eye or with a belt around the belly, which is what we breeders do, continues to be something that needs to be kept in mind. Nobody knows our animals better than us. If I cash in the cheque they gave me for 4,000 pesos, I’d be accepting what they tell me, I prefer to fight. I will continue to put pressure on them until I get a response. Justice needs to be served somehow.