Thirty people have been charged after stealing 133 tonnes of chicken and selling it on in Cuba amid economic turmoil and food shortages in the country.

Thieves took the poultry stored in 1,660 boxes from a state facility in the capital Havana and used the money from the sales to buy products including refrigerators, TVs, air conditioners, and laptops.

The chicken would have been distributed to citizens under the communist-run island’s ration book system – introduced more than 60 years ago after Fidel Castro’s revolution – which provides subsidised food and is an integral part of daily Cuban life.

The amount stolen was equivalent to a month’s ration of chicken for a medium-sized province at the current distribution rates, an official for government food distributor COPMAR said.

Cabbage is on display for sale underneath an image of Cuba's late President Fidel Castro at a fresh produce market, in Havana, Cuba January 23, 2024. REUTERS/Yander Zamora
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The rationing system was introduced after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. Pic: Reuters

IT workers and shift bosses at the plant were among those charged, as well as security guards and outsiders not directly involved with the company.

The suspects could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Authorities did not say exactly when the theft took place, but that it likely happened between midnight and 2am when temperature changes were detected in the storage facility.

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Footage captured trucks transporting the chicken off the site.

Cuba imports most of the food and fuel it consumes, but revenues have plunged following COVID, worsened by strict US sanctions and stagnant tourism, which was once a mainstay of the nation’s economy.

The government continues to ration a basic basket of goods including rice, beans, sugar, and proteins, such as pork, chicken, beef and fish.

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

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