Children Without Milk

Fábrica de leche en Cuba
Dairy in Cuba

My son will be seven years old this Thursday, October 8. For decades, seven has been the age chosen by Fidel Alejandro Castro and maintained by his brother Raul Modesto for Cubans to stop drinking milk.

Every ten days a Cuban child under age 7 receives 2.2 pounds of powdered milk for the price of 2.50 in Cuban pesos, about 10 cents in US dollars. The minimum Cuban wage is around $10 a month, and the average is about $18 a month, and however prices are adjusted for markets around the world, you can see it would be impossible for a Cuban worker to afford. In Spain and Brazil it is possible to buy a quart of milk for the equivalent of $0.70 on the US dollar, but such a figure approaches a day’s wages for a Cuban teacher.  

Outside this milk quota received by my son, which he shares with his older sister, Cubans who want to drink milk or give it to their children or parents, have to buy it in the market in dollars. But there, the price of milk far exceeds what is charged for children under seven, and also exceeds what it costs in most markets in the world. In the market, it costs more than four times what it costs abroad, and a quarter of the Cuban minimum monthly wage. The milk sold at such a price is often already expired on the shelves. As of age seven, not even Cuban children can drink milk, nor will they be able to do so for the rest of their lives.

The times of  White Udder are past, she was a cow with a tumor and the attention of one no less damaging than Fidel A. Castro. In the ‘80s she broke the world record for the most milk produced in a day. They say the  comandante paid filial attention to the beast, making her into a star of articles, documentaries, frequent visits from specialists from around the world and, according to a computer engineer who emigrated, it was an honor in those years to be invited by Fidel A. Castro to toast with a glass of milk from those diseased udders.

It is known that the  comandante’s passions were, for decades, objects of national worship. The Yankees were  hated until last December, Celia Sanchez was the truest flower, PPG – a pill to regulate cholesterol – came to rub shoulders with the rest of the national symbols, and  five spies charged with involvement in murder were made into heroes.

Aside from delirium, to exalt the Cuban dairy industry was a propaganda move. The Revolution had triumphed, among other things, to bring a glass of milk to every child and one cow was enough to meet this ambitious goal, according to the logic offered by the Party leader. If we consider that the Communist organization emphasized greed more than bringing together members who believed in the supposed aims of the Revolution, we can understand why this particular heroine is stuffed in a livestock research institute like Lenin in his mausoleum.

There is a clear difference between wanting a good and desiring to be the one who appears good. This goal explains a great deal of Castroism. While supporting a costly and unproductive livestock industry with Soviet subsidies and providing every child and more than a few adults with a glass of milk, Fidel A. Castro appeared on an ongoing basis as a kind of godfather to the industry. Hence his strutting about with White Udder and his delirious references to her in his interminable official speeches.

Our entire cattle industry collapsed at the beginning of the nineties, the age of children eligible for subsidized milk was cynically reduced to six years, fresh milk was no longer distributed, and Fidel A. Castro never again appeared at any site related to the subject.

If a glass of milk for every child had really been of interest to the Castro regime, they would have long ago relaxed the state monopoly over cows, and reduced the prison sentences of those who go looking in the black market to compensate for its lack. None of this has happened and our children, my son among them, wake up without milk on the day they turn seven.

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