The theft of 133 tons of chicken from a Cuban state company intended for subsidized sale has caused significant public shock, a robust judicial reaction, and the government and the Communist Party’s call for a “strong hand” against crime.
The official account of the incident is staggering: an illicit benefit estimated at 1.35 million dollars, 8,500 15-kilogram boxes of chicken stolen, dismissals, eight home searches, and at least 30 arrests, with potential prison sentences of up to 20 years.
This theft of chicken – Cuba’s primary source of protein – is happening amidst a severe economic crisis on the island, characterized by frequent power outages, rampant inflation, and shortages of essential goods, including fuel, medicine and food.
According to state television, the scheme was exposed following the last of around five thefts – about 26 tons of chicken in 1,660 boxes. The date was not specified by the state news, but it revealed a complex “modus operandi” involving numerous individuals.
As per this reconstruction of the events, the culprits gained access to the Havana facilities of the state company Copmar, which falls under the Ministry of Food Industries, at dawn. They then used a truck to haul away hundreds of boxes of frozen chicken.
The thieves had the support of company staff, who let them in, and then they came up with a method to duplicate metal seals on the cold room doors to hide the theft.
Despite this, Cuban television acknowledged control failures at different levels, as the total amount stolen is equivalent to the quantity of chicken that the state sells at subsidized prices for a month in a “medium province.”
The authorities stated that each box was resold for 3,800 Cuban pesos (158 dollars at the official exchange rate, but only 12.5 dollars at the informal exchange rate)., when the average wage is 4,200 pesos. On the black market, this product can fetch much higher prices.
Theft and corruption
Among the 30 accused -11 in provisional prison- there are “shift leaders, technologists, custodians (guardians)” and also people not linked to Copmar, according to state media.
The charges considered by the prosecutor’s office include “embezzlement, robbery, bribery, failure to comply with the duty to preserve the assets of economic entities and reception”, hence investigations into common crime, as well as corruption, are underway.
Marta María Gonzalez del Sol, prosecutor of the criminal proceedings department of Havana, assured state television that “a severe decision will be sought because the case warrants it”. She emphasized “the harmfulness”, the severity of “the damages”, “the historical moment” – referring to the serious crisis – and “the affected product”, a staple of the Cuban diet.
Political consequences have already ensued: the official media reported the dismissal of the general director of Copmar and the “management” of the state business entity in which it is integrated, the Base Economic Unit (UEB) Havana.
Ten days ago, the Cuban Minister of Food Industries, Manuel Santiago Sobrino, was dismissed without revealing the reasons behind his departure, beyond speculation due to the collapse of agricultural production and its impact on the volume of subsidized products.
The newspaper Granma , the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC, the only legal one), dedicated an editorial this Monday to the fight against “crime” and “corruption.” The reasons for its argument were not referred to, but events similar to this robbery were reported.
“The leadership of the Revolution has reiterated the call to close ranks now act with a hard hand, with firmness, without warm cloths or blandenguery and in accordance with the Law, as has always been done against these criminal manifestations,” the text stressed.