Cuba charges 30 over massive chicken heist

By Thomson Reuters Feb 10, 2024 | 8:06 AM

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba has charged 30 people for stealing 133 tonnes of chicken and selling them on the street in a rare major heist at a time of food shortages in the communist-run nation.

Thieves took the meat, in 1,660 white boxes, from a state facility in the capital Havana, and used the sale proceeds to buy refrigerators, laptops, televisions and air conditioners, according to a Cuban state TV broadcast late on Friday.

The chicken had been earmarked for Cuba`s “rationbook” system introduced after the late Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution to provide subsidized staples for all.

Rigoberto Mustelier, director of government food distributor COPMAR, said the quantity stolen was the equivalent of a month`s ration of chicken for a medium-sized province at current distribution rates.

The amount of chicken available via the rationbook has fallen sharply in recent years as economic crisis has brought scarcities of food, fuel and medicines.

Many subsidized products reach the populace days, weeks or even months later than scheduled, leaving people who make an average wage of 4,209 pesos a month ($14 at the informal exchange rate) to seek other ways to make ends meet.

Authorities did not say when the chicken theft took place, but noted it likely occurred between midnight and 2 a.m., when they detected fluctuations in the temperature of the cold storage facility. Video surveillance captured trucks transporting the chicken off site.

The 30 charged included shift bosses and IT workers at the plant, as well as security guards and outsiders not directly affiliated with the company, the TV report said.

The suspects, if found guilty, could face as many as 20 years in prison.

Crime has increased alongside economic hardship since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, though reports of large scale thefts like this one are still a rarity on the Caribbean island.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)