Dog Meat, Human Meat, and Other Wonders of Socialist Cuban Hunger
I can imagine the face of the person who discovered that bag full of dog heads in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. Around those days in 2012, the tumultuous popular festivities of Humoranga had ended, and the local palate still remembered the fabulous skewers that, mysteriously, were being sold at pocket prices in the always hungry Cuban scene.
I can imagine people hearing about the sack. Tying up loose ends can be nauseating.
The possible sale of dog meat keeps reminding me of Donald Trump, who pointed out that people stand up for freedom because they want to walk their dog and not eat it. Sure, maybe not your dog, but the neighborhood dog, who passes a stone’s throw away and doesn’t wear a collar or answer to any name. People are hungry.
That is why a well-known Cuban writer told me that before going cat-hunting in his college years, he would swish some rum, as if to dilute his consciousness. Yes, in Cuba people have also eaten cats. The demand for this and any meat had a peak in the 1990s, the hardest crisis on the island, when this writer was studying to become an engineer, and the nights of hunger did not allow him to sleep.
In that fateful decade, rabbit meat buyers asked for the animal with its head, to make sure they weren’t selling cats. From that period comes an extensive survival recipe. From pizzas with condoms instead of cheese, to steaks with grapefruit peel and mop bedspreads.
Socialism has failed so much and in so many ways that, as Thomas Sowell said, only an intellectual would be unable to see it. In 2007, experts from the University of Loyola and the Cuban university in Cienfuegos studied the impacts of the so-called Special Period and concluded that it had done good for the health of Cubans. Yes, as it reads.
Due to the lack of food and fuel, which forced thousands of Cubans to pedal bicycles to get around, obesity decreased. And, as a consequence, the number of deaths were attributed to diabetes, coronary diseases, and cardiac arrests. At the same time, the famine minimized the amount of calories in the diet. Wow, after zombifying millions of souls, you have Big Brother to thank.
The experts can be, it is known, new tyrants of the postmodern state, and with Cuba, they have tried to rewrite its history to accommodate their delusions. The academics behind the study conveniently ignored the rise in diseases such as polyneuritis or depression during the 1990s.
What would they say about an act of cannibalism if it occurs in socialist Cuba? Would they change the moral compass to justify it? At the end of 2022, it emerged that a hospital employee “was extracting organs and body fat from the deceased to crush them and sell them as mincemeat.” The rumor spread on social networks, and through an official statement the Provincial Health Directorate of Santiago de Cuba confirmed it: the National Revolutionary Police was investigating a possible case of organ trafficking from deceased persons at the Ambrosio Grillo Portuondo Clinical Surgical Hospital.
“Certainly, there are two workers from the reference hospital who work as eviscerators and occupational therapy, arrested on December 9, 2022 for an alleged criminal act, having seized two hearts of possible human origin,” explained the state center. Will revolutionary progress lead to cannibalism?
The United States is one of the main importers of food to the island. In 2021, Castroism disbursed more than $124 million in frozen chicken quarters, a substantial increase compared to 2020, when it paid just over $67 million for the same product.
Yes, imperialism wants the hardened people to die of hunger, the people that (the regime believes) turns on the gossip in the blackout, thinking that at least the right wing does not rule in Cuba, the island that before 1959 produced meat and exported flowers south of the United States. Yes. When the system changes, how things change.
The revolutionaries of 1959 repeated that changes were good, that change was equal to progress, that they could only advance even as nobody knew for sure where it was going. But, as we have seen, progressivism does not mean progress. Having your feet on the ground, a minute, is enough to know.
Luis O. lives in Camaguey, inherited a shotgun, and after a cumbersome process he obtained a license to hunt. It is 2023, but Luis goes out to kill ducks, quails, and whatever he finds in front of the canyon to feed his brother, his mother, his wife, and their two children, as if the city of Camaguey was still Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe. While socialism imposes stores in capitalist currency (euro, dollar, everything) on an impoverished population, the people of Camaguey saw the stores in Cuban pesos dry up. Without food, Luis went back in time. He shares that his days are filled with the need to go into the bush and hunt.
The Cuban State cries about the embargo and paints it as a “blockade,” but the only blockade that exists is that of the State against the citizen, and it is the one that takes its toll, leaving land without crops and stomachs without food. The bureaucrats at the Palace of the Revolution kick their feet because Washington does not give credit to a country that does not pay, and because U.S. politicians consider it immoral to trade freely with a regime that prohibits free trade among its inhabitants.
As in India, for more than 40 years cows were “sacred” in Cuba. In one way by faith, in another by the hand of the god-State. It was only until 2021 that the sale of beef was authorized on the island, and its production and sale by private parties was decriminalized.
Since 1979, no producer could sell this meat, and buyers were punished with up to a year in jail for buying it. At the time of its decriminalization, the pound was paid in the informal market for up to $12. Castroism announced that it would pay the peasant for two kilos of meat. Magnanimous.
Faithful to the disconnection with natural laws, Cuban statism projected in 2021 the allocation of an additional 3,461 million pesos to the annual budget, “in order to stimulate agricultural production.” But the investment was nothing. The same voluntarism that “removed” money from the coffers, generated one of the highest inflation rates on the planet that year and its consequent devaluation of the peso.
He believed that subsidizing with “soft loans” electricity, water, fumigation, and feed costs for pig farming, he would magically compensate for the lack of economic freedom of 63 years.
In 1979, the first revolutionary Penal Code criminalized the slaughter of cattle. But the hunger was so great that, far from stopping, in 1987 the sacrifice of horses had to be made illegal in the letter. In 1999, the severity of sentences for slaughtering cattle increased. Whoever sold or transported that meat would receive up to eight years in prison. But there is no decree that stops hunger. Just freedom and work.
Before 1959, Cuba was an important regional cattle producer. In the first years, Castroism attributed its incipient reduction to sabotage by its internal opponents. However, once thousands of them were shot, and hundreds of thousands more thrown into jail or exile, the phenomenon did not reverse.
Today, the socialist paradise imports 80% of the food it consumes and dedicates annually, with frequent restrictions due to lack of liquidity and non-payment, about $2 billion to these imports.
On the other hand, hunger is an effective control mechanism. It prevents thinking beyond the day to day, to satisfy the urgent need that literally climbs the individual on the tightrope of life or death. At the same time, a desperate society can become a tsunami of violence. Castroism has played the drip strategy for decades: miserable portions through the ration card, enough to cover the cupboard for a few days, occupying your mind by “inventing” most of the month, but in a model that keeps expectant the body until the next sale of products.
So much has been “invented” in Cuba that in 2012, due to a national lack of oil, oil from crematoriums circulated on the Havana black market… for cooking food.
As the presenter, Juan explained at that time, with each cremation, about 20 liters of burning oil are used for the treatment of smoke gases. From a warehouse of the Guanabacoa incinerator, on the outskirts of the capital, the liquid came out of yore.
There was a scandal, in the proportions that the story warranted, and apparently, they cut the network. But what the revolutionaries have not cut is the shortage of oil, which appears from time to time on the island of “there is no.”
A painter friend who came to the United States in the late 1960s experienced a panic attack in Los Angeles. She entered a small grocery store and had to be taken out unconscious. From the empty shelf, the desperation for what to eat tomorrow, and the long lines, to endless shelves, full to the brim and with so many brands and prices to choose from.
My wife and I arrived in Miami already knowing other countries, on both sides of the Atlantic. The impact of overflowing shops was not as much as for compatriots who arrive from nothing every day to a nation of abundance. Even so, when I enter the cheap Dollar Tree or Walmart, the first thing I think about is my friends and their children, my mother, the ministries of my church, which help the elderly and abandoned children, the homeless. It sure happens to others.
One imagines filling suitcases, yes. That lucky patch. But I also think about how much free enterprise could bring to Cuba. Employment, food, and medicines. The more the free market is respected, the closer the paradigm of land flowing with milk and honey is.
For me, a clear mark of abundance in the United States manifested itself on Halloween. For that day, costumes and decorations are prepared for weeks. Candy sales skyrocket. On the night itself, I saw neighborhoods fill up with boys and families where no soul walks at any other time of the year. “Trick or treat!” they shouted before extending their hands.
The next day, on the pavement, the sidewalks, the gardens of the entire neighborhood, there were hundreds of candies, chocolates, and little toys. All sealed, slipped carelessly from baskets and baskets, forgotten because there are more and tomorrow there will be again, because buying a cookie for your son doesn’t cost ten hours in line and a shoving fight.
Children in Cuba, for example, skin pelicans to sell their little meat for 70 Cuban pesos (less than a dollar) each. The story does not take place at the beginning of the Revolution or in the 1990s, but in 2022, in the coastal town of Caibarién. Through dirt streets one of them pedals with a bucket full of pelicans without feathers or skin. Potential buyers appear from the rickety houses.
Meanwhile, the children who “fish” for pelicans kill their hunger by boiling the corpses of the birds with brown sugar and guava leaves. “You throw out the water three times,” they detailed to the reporter, “and that way they don’t taste so bad.”
*This article was done with the help of the Cuban Studies Institute.
Yoe Suárez is a writer, producer, and journalist, exiled from Cuba due to his investigative reporting about themes like torture, political prisoners, government black lists, cybersurveillance, and freedom of expression and conscience. He is the author of the books “Leviathan: Political Police and Socialist Terror” and “El Soplo del Demonio: Violence and Gangsterism in Havana”.