Requiem to Cuba’s Cattle Industry

By Alberto N Jones

Photo by Angel Yu

HAVANA TIMES — Many articles have appeared in national and regional media which have delicately touched upon and avoided getting to the heart of the causes, the determining factors which have influenced the grave regression and the danger of extinction of cattle in Cuba.

Ever since the ‘80s-’90s, there has been a progressive and steady decline in animal mass, some of which has been justified by the lack of concentrate feeds for hybrid and pure-breed animals, medicines, the decline in veterinary services, and that of artificial insemination. However, in other cases, this has to do with the lack of control, of pastures and forage, poor management, material resources and a substantial loss of the cattle raising spirit.

A thorough study needs to be carried out about this problem, to change the course and dismantle a system which continues to work in a different context, on the same basis it was conceived upon half a century ago. Organizational, analytical, statistical and income methods need to be changed, as their results don’t coincide with today’s reality and lead to the mechanical repetition of the same procedures which have put the industry on the brink of collapse.

Creating investigative and critical studies and reports in the media are urgently needed, without fear of reprisals for exposing the fraud, digressions, theft, privileges and corruption committed by those who hide behind a false veil of secrecy, which encourages crime and unethical behavior.

Society has become desensitized with repetitive reports on meager self-imposed targets not being met year after year which alternate with other triumphalist, sugar-coated articles that have nothing to do with the ordinary Cuban’s reality.

These negative results are more tragic, painful and depressing in Cuba than in the rest of the world, due to the enormous effort and the billions of dollars that the country invested in training tens of thousands of professionals and technicians in every field of agriculture, in creating and equipping universities, research institutes with technology, genes, artificial insemination, automatic milking, pasteurization and unlimited foreign technical assistance.

Fidel Castro warned many a time about the importance of the livestock industry and foresaw the fact that its workers would produce just as much health for the Cuban people as the Public Health Ministry would. However, multiple human errors, dogmatism, careerism and internal fights, ran this monumental contribution to the sciences into the ground and deprived people of such an important food source.

How can we explain to ourselves today, without beating around the bush, that we need the same country that shone brightly in the ‘70s, attracting prominent agricultural figures from across the globe to visit or work in Cuba like Andres Voisin, Lubos Holy, Bona Dona, Willie, Erno Turi, Bohaz, Shimon, Mocsari and others?

Professor Andres Voisin’s heart didn’t hold out and he died in Cuba, after seeing his dream come true and his studies validated in the mass presence and effectiveness of intensive grazing within the country, which led his wife to decide that his remains should rest in our country and not in France.

Thousands of highly-qualified professionals and scientists trained in Cuba, the Soviet Union, England, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Holland and Switzerland, all saw their knowledge, plans, guidelines and directives vetoed by administrative and political bosses without any grounds or training in the profession. They imposed empirical and binding criteria, which slowed down the work and demoralized many who have made their mark in this world, contributing with their knowledge and experiences to others who have known how to recognize them.

Negative results categorically prove the disastrous interference of bosses assigned to posts they are unqualified for. The Alcazar de Contramaestre ranch in Santiago de Cuba, is perhaps the best livestock ranch in Cuba, where Maria Antonio Pujol has never allowed or accepted empirical meddling from anyone in the management, feeding and reproduction of her livestock.

From that bright beacon which so many people in Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean had placed their hopes on, Cuba is now faced with the pitiful need to import cows from Paraguay, one of the least developed countries in Latin America, technologically-speaking.

Luckily, not all has been lost. All Cuba has to do is recognize and admit its mistakes, giving up on the failed attempt to insist on trying to supply the population with milk produced in Cuba, getting rid of national dependence on imported fodder, the susceptibility and deadliness of tropical vectors for dairy cows and their intolerance to tropical climates, and using all national livestock for meat production instead.

Add to the above the fact that Cuba has millions of hectares of idle land, taken over by weeds. If what has been established in the Agrarian Reform Law were put into practice and every farmer received 30 hectares (67 acres) of land on a lease contract, supply stores with farming products could be created, thousands of retired technicians and professionals could return to work for a decent salary, and machinery, farming tools and transport vehicles could be sold. Cuba could become the largest producer of organic meat in the world in less than 10 years, which is worth 8-10 times more than milk and 4-5 times more that non-organic meat on the international market.

All of the above can also be applied to the deteriorated small livestock industry, of birds, pigs and other animals, which contradict and condemn laziness and perhaps the source of some people’s corruption who insist on importing products that Cuba is perfectly equipped to produce, manufacture and export.

10 thoughts on “Requiem to Cuba’s Cattle Industry

  • You were fortunate in finding cheese Stephen.

  • No milk or cheese to found except in the tourist stores. Cuba can not even afford to pay the shipping on the importing of powered milk. Livestock are not fed a diet to thrive on. The people are also suffering now for the lack of good food. People are not given the tools to grow enough food, and too many supervisors. A very smart manager told me that make people have control and be expect to do a good job, very little supervision or rules are required.

  • Tell me Sky, where can a Cuban buy beef anywhere – apparently you are saying that they can in Havana? And where else?
    I have often joked that the average US citizen is maintained by maize. Cattle, pigs, poultry are all fed maize, much of the processed food includes maize derivatives and when relaxing at the ball game, what do US citizens eat – popcorn! Maybe eating maize explains the current President’s hair colour. Yes, in North America the wide use of hormones for livestock is disturbing, not allowed in Europe! But, perhaps more alarming is the use of copper as a growth promoter in hogs. Copper lodges in the liver – pigs liver is the main base for pates widely sold. People eat the pate and guess where that copper lodges?

  • Yes that would make sense. A bigger population to feed + raw milk does not travel far well. Re meat, Well then buy from a store – the one on Galiano or the shops in eg Carlos Tercero or La Epoca have frozen and fresh. Not all Cubans would be able to afford it mind you. BTW are you from the US? Personally I wouldn’t consume meat produced from the US given all the hormones and other crap they put into the cattle no matter how refrigerated it is….

  • Victor very very few people in Cuba ever get to drink raw milk – so you were fortunate. sometimes it is possible to purchase homogenized milk in the various GAESA subsidiary stores and sometimes powdered milk.
    The permuta for under age 7 allows 2 packets of powdered milk per month and 3 packets of ‘complete’ milk.
    Hope you enjoyed Pinar del Rio, as it is far more representative of ‘real’ Cuba than the tourist hot spots.

  • I was in Havana in May. No raw milk to be found. Only powdered milk on the shelves. Plus, little else on the shelves.
    Meat? If you’ve seen the outdoor butcher shops, you wouldn’t consume anything they offer which was once living.

  • Carlyle, the powers to be in Cuba just don’t get it. Sad story and will get sadder if the system continues to plod along.

  • I was impressed by the small family run dairy farms that ring the city of Pinar del Rio and supply it with raw milk. I was surprised to learn that cattle and horses can be sold freely among farmers, unlike with automobiles.

  • When I last visited Cuba about 8 years ago I was impressed with the small farms that ringed Pinar del Rio city and provided milk for the city. They were providing raw milk which was cherished by the families who received it. I suspect all Cuba is drinking raw milk.

  • It takes Dr. Jones a long time to say very little. To be brief he could have said that the cattle industry as such in Cuba is virtually dead. Cuban’s don’t get to eat beef unless it has been rustled, and an incompetent regime is obviously incapable of changing or rectifying the mess. Instead he refers to Fidel Castro’s “monumental contribution to the sciences” whereas as with most of Fidel’s ‘ideas’ it was a total failure. The graveyard for socialist dreams like that of Dr. Jones in his penultimate paragraph is ever expanding.

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