Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Cuba: The beef could land you in jail

In communist Cuba, only the state is allowed to slaughter cattle and sell the meat. A citizen who kills a cow - even if he raises it himself - can get a 10-year prison sentence. Anyone who transports or sells a poached animal can get locked up for 8 years.

"My brother-in-law got a 12-year prison sentence for killing 12 cows," said an accountant who lives in the cattle-raising region.

But it's not unheard of for Cubans to sneak into a pasture at night and butcher a cow on the spot. Residents have been known to descend on a cow struck by lightning, carving it up in minutes even though the meat often is charred and they risk a fine if caught by police.

The same thing can happen if a cow is hit by a car or dies of illness or malnutrition, in giving birth or of old age, even though residents admit the law requires them to leave the dead animal alone and notify local officials.

Ulises Cutino, a 32-year-old who works at a large dairy farm, recounted how scores of people scrambled to a nearby railway with knives and machetes when word spread that more than a dozen cattle had been struck by a passing train.

"If the authorities don't come fast, people take it away," said Manuel Salazar, who tends cattle in eastern Cuba.


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