Cubans Eat Cats In Face Of Shortages

PONCE, Puerto Rico - Cuba's economic crisis is so severe that people are eating cats, the leader of a Cuban animal protection agency said.

"You won't see cats in gardens, and it is very hard to find stray cats roaming the streets, because people are hunting them for human consumption," Nora Garcia, head of the private Cuban Association for the Protection of Animals, said.

"The few cats that are left must be placed in cages or locked up inside homes."

The cat shortage has led to proliferation of rats in Havana, causing health problems, Garcia added.

Garcia traveled from Cuba to attend the 14th Symposium of the Animal Protection Federation held in Ponce, on Puerto Rico's south coast.

She did not say when cat-eating took off, but travelers to Cuba say it has emerged within the past year or so.

In recent years meat consumption in Cuba has been infrequent among most citizens, who rely on a tight government rationing system for food. Many Cubans depend on small gardens to try to supplement their bland, potato-based diet.

The Caribbean nation, which lost its main trading partners with the collapse of the East bloc in 1989, is going through its worst economic crisis since a revolution brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959. Castro's government blames a 33-year-old U.S. economic embargo for its troubles.