Dairy and Dictatorship

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Years ago, the late Fidel Castro promised that Cuba’s communist government would subsidize a liter of milk a day for every child under the age of seven. He even showcased a prized Cuban milk cow, Ubre Blanca, to highlight his regime’s dairy capacities. Now, however, as Agence France-Presse reported, the supply chain snarls of the early 21st Century have proved too much for the will of the country’s former strongman.

Despite Castro’s vision, Cuba likely could never produce enough milk for itself, the Havana Times wrote. So it has to import the stuff, along with 70 percent of its food needs in general. Due to the US embargo against Cuba, though, milk must be flown into the Caribbean island from New Zealand, Belgium and Uruguay. Those supply chains aren’t running so smoothly in the current post-pandemic economic chaos. Cuba is more than 120 million gallons short of its people’s nutritional needs.

The milk shortage is happening as the island’s economy hit its worst rough patch in years. Covid-19 gutted tourism. Former President Donald Trump squeezed the island with extra sanctions that President Joe Biden has not yet completely lifted. Venezuela, another socialist Latin American nation, is experiencing its own troubles and has cut aid. As a result, Cubans routinely wait in lines for staples.

“Since you wake up, you are always thinking, what can you eat, where can you find food?” Yohana Perdomo, a Havana manicurist, told the Washington Post.

Observers are wondering if the situation could spin out of control. Last summer, protests broke out over food and electricity shortages. These same conditions are expected in the coming hot summer.

Anti-government sentiments are strong in Cuba, according to CNN. Activists who are members of the San Isidro Movement, a group of artists and others who demonstrate in support of freedom of expression and civil rights, are now facing trial for appearing in a music video for “Patria y Vida,” a song critical of Raúl Castro, who succeeded Fidel in 2011, and current leader Miguel Díaz-Canel, who took office last year.

The current unstable conditions could also lead to more migration, as Smithsonian magazine recently depicted in a story recalling the Cubans who came to the US in the 1990s. Cubans trying to emigrate to the US have pathways to residency but face significant hurdles, as the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Russia has struck a deal with Cuba that could bring more milk to the island, the Cuban state-owned Prensa Latina wrote.

It needs to be a lot. Cuban children can’t live on symbolic goodwill.

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