A Revolution on the Backs of the Humble / Henry Constantin

I will not site this trip in any place in Cuba because it could have taken place in any of the thousands of fields in this country with any of the hundreds of thousands Cuban peasants.

I’ve had travel companions more distinct in this world. I’ve traveled among fresh pines with workers in the sawmills in Pico Cristal; among hives and smoke with the collectors of bees’ honey; on a mountain of ice with fishermen from the Bay of Pigs; surrounded by resigned conscripts to military service; or with euphoric musicians from an orchestra; with the president of the ICRT who did not specify what kind of journalist he was when I talked to him and began to wonder about his acquaintances from Camaguey; sandwiched between dozens of faithful Pentecostal or Catholic missionaries; in official cars — when they thought they could make another official journalist out of me — or in the cop cars of lawless people with grim looks when they were convinced otherwise; crammed with Cubans of all provinces and odors…

But a few days ago I had an unusual travel companion.

I traveled with a cow. A very sad and sick cow, lying on the floor, not mooing, as if she guessed that her journey was ending at the slaughterhouse. “She got stuck in the mud, spent the night there, and when we saw her and managed to get her out, she couldn’t stand up,” the owner told me, unknown but talkative, sitting beside me in the truck.

And why were they taking her to a slaughterhouse more than twenty miles away? “We don’t want any problems, my son. We don’t have a certificate for the death of this animal. And without this paper we have to keep delivering the milk as if she were alive.”

Then the interviewee started to turn toward me: “And how much do they pay at the slaughterhouse for the cow?”

“For this one, 700 pounds, it will be some 90 pesos total.”

Ninety Cuban pesos is less than four U.S. Dollars. Almost what this peasant paid to hire transport to the slaughterhouse.

“But they will give you some of the meat?”

“No, nothing my son. And afterwards I have to take more paperwork to the vet, get the stamps on it and pay more. I’m the owner of the cow, but I have to give an account to the State of everything I do with her, even after her death.”

And he smiled at the absurdity, while I ended up outraged at so much abuse. But the hardest thing is not the cow itself that the law forces you to give to State functionaries, after having raised it for so many years, without help from any State enterprise; the worst is not even the possibility that the children of this peasant eat a lunch of offal and their mother suffers from low iron, while the fortunate functionaries eat the meat itself but avoid the sun and the getting up at dawn, and others meet and exhort and scold the farmers so that they will keep on working, and others spy on them so that everything gets done. The hardest thing, the most devastating was the end of the conversation.

“And you don’t protest all of this?”

“Ah, my son, what for?”

7 May 2013

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