Thursday, December 03, 2015

Cows, Capitalism and the Future of Cuba

Every time Gator ejaculated, Dan Marvel grossed 10 grand. At the time of his death last year, the bull was a ton and a half of genetic perfection—or as close to it as has ever been recorded for his breed (Red Brangus, a dewlapped, humpbacked strain, three-eighths Brahman, five-eighths Angus and usually russet in hue, hence the name). And he was prolific: Marvel, his owner, says with pride that Gator once produced more than 400 “straws”—a half-cubic-centimeter swizzle stick of bull semen being the standard measure—from a single ejaculation. Gator's semen was white gold because, drop for drop, the seed of a prize-winning bull is worth more than gasoline, penicillin and human blood combined. It's not the most valuable liquid in existence (that distinction goes to scorpion venom, which has medicinal properties), but it's close. Five years ago, Marvel received an intriguing phone call from John Parke Wright, a wealthy investor from Naples, Florida. Wright knew someone who wanted to create a beef cattle herd, and his client needed a hefty amount of Gator's semen: thousands of straws. The deal would earn Marvel and his wife, Sandra, $50,000, a huge haul for them. The only catch: They had to make it happen in one of the least business-friendly places on earth: the communist island of Cuba. Six months after that chat, the Marvels were in Havana. They met Wright at a nondescript office building in Miramar, the city's diplomatic quarter, which serves as the headquarters of the National Enterprise for the Protection of Flora and Fauna, the Cuban equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency. A receptionist led them to a small conference room with a dark wood table and chairs, the walls lined with portraits of the Castros and other Cuban leaders. As they sipped espresso and bottled water, an elderly Cuban official walked into the room and greeted them. He kissed both of Sandra's cheeks—“the Latin kind of kiss,” as she describes it. His name was Guillermo García Frías, a comandante in the Cuban army who fought alongside the Castros during the revolution, a former vice president and current head of the environmental agency. García, who reportedly saved Fidel Castro’s life during the revolution, is Cuba’s canniest cattleman, Wright says. He had a new ranch called El Macho, he told the Marvels, and he wanted to turn it into the first large-scale, high-quality beef production operation on the island in more than five decades. He had the land: 150,000 acres in Camagüey. What he didn’t have: cows or capital...more

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