A tale of Cuba’s decline: trading steaks for horse heads

A very sad but almost funny story about the great progress made by the so-called Revolution.

It involves a horse head.

Aaaaaaaaay, ay, ay, ay…….

Translated from Marti Noticias

In 1959, Cuba had 6 million inhabitants and 6 million head of cattle, one per inhabitant. Each Cuban consumed an average of 76 pounds of beef a year, so the island ranked third in that area in the Western Hemisphere. In 2000, with 11 million inhabitants, there were only 2.5 million head of cattle.

Between 1961 and 1965 I was a teacher of former maids (they were called “domestics” after 1959). In Havana lived thousands of old servants and for their improvement were opened several night schools in different municipalities of the capital. I gave classes in three: in the old school La Luz, in 25 y M, Vedado; in another that was in Neptune and San Francisco, behind the El Carmen church, and in a school located in La Cuevita, a marginal neighborhood of San Miguel del Padrón.

Many of the classes I had to dedicate to one of the most popular topics then: the ‘experiments’ of Fidel Castro in livestock. As if it were cooking recipes, we talked about the Holstein crosses with Cebu or the herbs and intensive pastures advised by André Voisin.

The French scientist became very close to the Comandante (Fidel) and traveled to the island every time. They say that on December 21, 1964, they were waiting for him at the University of Havana to offer a lecture and Castro appeared with the news that Voisin had died of a heart attack.

Fidel and his favorite cow

In 1985, when Ubre Blanca, the superstar cow of the bearded man, died, it had been two decades since I had changed the teaching profession for journalism. And like most Cubans, I had already given up hope that every morning we would have coffee with milk and bread and butter again and at least once a week, we would eat beef, in the form of steak, roasted, with potatoes or mincemeat, croquettes or meatballs.

But time passed. And the beef still disappeared. Neither the owners of convertible pesos can afford to eat beef often, because of its high cost in currency collecting stores. “If there is no bread, casabe is eaten,” says a Creole saying. Faced with the shortage of cattle and the risk of killing a bull or a cow and then selling the meat, the horse slaughterers became fashionable.

In Cuba there are people who prefer horse meat to beef. They say it is more nutritious and digestible for children, the sick and the elderly. I have never tried it and at 75 years old I do not intend to try it.

In 1998, when I was reporting from Havana as an independent journalist for Cuba Press, I wrote a story titled “Cabeza de Caballo” (Horse Head). In it I related that a friend who lived in Santiago de las Vegas told us that one weekend, because of the heat, he had left the door of the room open and suddenly, while he was watching “the Saturday movie,” he was struck by the rush of people to the empty lot across the street from his home.

He went out to the porch and asked a neighbor if he knew what was happening. “They threw out the remains of a horse that was killed and as soon as people heard about it, they flocked there with knives and bags, to see if there was any meat left.”

My friend ran into his house immediately, went to the kitchen, took the first knife he saw and asked his wife for a large bag. Because of the was in such a hurry, she gave him the bread bag, which at that time of day was already empty.

He crossed the street and found his treasure. “But it was awful,” he said, “it was awful, the only thing that remained was the head of the horse, who had died with his eyes open, I will never forget that look, that of a poor animal imploring mercy.”