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“Rosafe,” an Ontario Holstein Bull being honoured with a statue for role in Cuban Dairy history
January 5, 2015

Nearly every Cuban over 40 learned about Rosafe Signet in school, but the two-time Royal Agricultural Winter Fair grand champion is barely a footnote in Canadian history. Carey Linde hopes to change that.

In February, the Vancouver divorce lawyer will unveil a 600-kilogram bronze statue of Rosafe – the Ontario Holstein bull who fathered Cuba’s dairy herd – in Old Havana. He will also screen the documentary he’s producing as part of a decades-long adventure that is emblematic of the ties between the two countries.

“Canadians need to know there is more to Cuba than lovely beaches, great music and antique cars,” Mr. Linde told The Globe and Mail. “Being adjacent neighbours to the American colossus has forged a unique relationship.”

But although U.S. President Barack Obama decided last month to begin talks aimed at normalizing relations with the Communist-run island, the American colossus can still get in the way.

In attempting to raise the last bit of money to complete his project, which will celebrate Rosafe’s second life in Cuba – following his purchase from an Ontario farmer in 1961, when the pedigreed bull seen as near the end of its breeding days received “amazing, tender loving care” from Cuban veterinarians and remained fertile for another five years, Mr. Linde said – he was tripped up by the U.S. embargo.

The far-reaching tentacles of United States trade sanctions are preventing him from crowdsourcing the funds, despite a federal law designed to shield Canadians from such interference.

Having spent the $80,000 he initially budgeted, Mr. Linde is looking for another $25,000. The spry 72-year-old hoped to use Kickstarter, the success of which he glimpsed first-hand when he donated a small sum to join the 50th anniversary Merry Pranksters bus tour, which was organized last summer by late psychedelic icon Ken Kesey’s son using the popular crowdfunding platform.

But when Mr. Linde sought assurances from Amazon, which handles Kickstarter’s online payments, that he would be able to raise funds in Canada for a non-profit art project in Cuba without running afoul of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the sanctions, he got no response.

Gregory Biniowsky, a Northern B.C.-born lawyer who has lived in Cuba for the past 20 years, ran into similar problems trying to raise money for local development work through PayPal. “It is disturbing that PayPal Canada has to follow the dictates of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, even for a humanitarian or non-profit project,” he said, suggesting such deference violates the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act (FEMA).

Undaunted, Mr. Biniowsky helped Mr. Linde launch a campaign for Rosafe using FundRazr. The pair were hopeful the Vancouver-based firm would allow their crowdfunding effort to proceed. They received nine contributions totalling $3,000 before FundRazr suspended the campaign after just one day. A customer-service agent said the firm’s use of PayPal and WePay, another online payment service, to process transactions prevented it from “facilitating any unlicensed donation of money to Cuba.”

Mr. Linde – who must now raise the funds on his own – has since written to Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Peter MacKay asking that he investigate the potential violation of FEMA, which was amended to protect both Canadian firms and Canadian subsidiaries of U.S. companies from Cuba sanctions after Washington tightened the embargo in 1996.

‘The most famous bull I’ve ever heard of’

The Rosafe project began in 1977, when Mr. Linde first visited Havana as part of the American Association of Jurists, which brought together progressive-minded lawyers from across the hemisphere. While there he attended a party hosted by a judge who was married to Rita Longa, one of Cuba’s most celebrated sculptors.

Mr. Linde noticed her studio off to one side of the colonial Spanish mansion and wandered through. “There, in the back in a corner, was this dusty green, rusty red head of a bull,” he said. When he asked Ms. Longa, she told him it was part of a statue commissioned by Fidel Castro but never completed because they ran out of bronze.

The head, she explained, belonged to Rosafe Signet, a Holstein purchased from an Ontario farmer along with a few dozen cows.

One of Rosafe’s offspring was Ubre Blanca. The cow, whose name translates as White Udder, set Guinness world records in 1982 for most milk production in a single day (109.5 litres) and during an entire lactation period (24,268.9 litres). As a result, whenever Mr. Linde visited Cuban schools in the early 1980s and asked students if they knew about Rosafe, every hand would shoot up with the answer.

Today, Mr. Linde – who was born in New York and briefly studied jazz at the Berklee College of Music in Boston before completing his law degree at the University of British Columbia – evokes Ernest Hemingway to explain the creature’s significance. “Rosafe is the most famous bull I’ve ever heard of with the exception of Islero, who was the bull that killed Manolete in 1948,” he said, referring to the legendary Spanish matador who was fatally gored in the groin.

When he returned home after his initial visits to Cuba, Mr. Linde approached the federal government for funding to complete the Rosafe statue. He was told no money could be made available unless he wanted it built in Canada. With that, he shelved the idea, moved to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii), began working in community and indigenous law, and raised his family.

Award-winning bloodlines

Fate was perhaps a factor in bringing Rosafe Signet to Cuba. The Brampton, Ont., property on which the bull was born, Rosafe Farms, was owned by an Argentine who hailed from the city of Rosario, in Santa Fe province northwest of Buenos Aires – which is also the birthplace of Ernesto (Che) Guevara, the guerrilla leader who helped Fidel Castro topple Fulgencio Batista’s regime in 1959.

Sired by an award-winning bull named ABC Reflection Sovereign, Rosafe Signet was sold as a calf at a Royal Agricultural Winter Fair auction in the mid-1950s to Jack McCague of Alliston, Ont., for $20,000. Rosafe won considerable prestige in coming years, being crowned the fair’s grand champion in 1958 and 1959. And one of its Canadian offspring, Bond Haven Signet Sally, was named female grand champion for three consecutive years in the early 1960s.

Although it’s not clear whether the McCagues sold Rosafe directly to Cuba, or first to an intermediary, it is clear the bull fetched a pretty penny. According to Tom Hays, whose father helped arrange the transaction with the Cuban government, Rosafe sold for more than $100,000 in 1961. “In those days, that was an awful lot of money,” Mr. Hays, 73, told The Globe from Burlington, Ont.

A year or two later, with Canadian farmers having sold Cuba tens of thousands of cattle in the early days of the revolution, Brian McCague – Jack’s son and manager of the family farm – visited the island as part of a trade mission. A reception was held for the group in Havana and someone told Castro “that the chap who had owned Rosafe Signet was there, so I had about a half-hour conversation with him,” Mr. McCague, 80, recalled in a phone interview.

“It was amazing. Castro knew a lot about the top pedigrees of Canadian Holsteins, so he was asking me about this, that and the other kind of cow,” Mr. McCague added. “He was great to talk to.”

Revolution in a glass of milk

About five years ago, with his children grown and tending to families of their own, Mr. Linde started visiting Cuba again. He quickly picked up where he left off with Rosafe Signet.

He heard the incomplete sculpture of the bull had last been seen on a movie set, which led him to a prop farm on the outskirts of Havana. To his dismay, he learned the head was stolen and likely melted down years ago.

But to his delight, he and the farm’s owner immediately bonded and agreed to see the project through to completion.

Mr. Linde commissioned Tomas Lara, president of Cuba’s national advisory council on monumental sculpture, to build a life-size bronze of Rosafe from scratch – with the Cuban government providing all the necessary raw material this time around. And he hired filmmaker Rolando Almirante to document the project.

“It’s taken on proportions and importance far beyond my wildest imagination,” Mr. Linde said. “I’ve been hosted and treated with incredible respect and honours for resurrecting this totemic image of the revolution.”

One reason Mr. Linde’s effort moved along so swiftly is that milk is a key focus of Cuban economic reform. In 2007, shortly after taking the reins from his ailing brother Fidel, Raul Castro lashed out at the dairy industry’s flagging production levels and convoluted distribution system. The Cuban President said anyone who wanted a glass of milk would have one to drink – a promise that has so far gone unfulfilled.

The Cuban government, of course, blames the U.S. embargo for much of its inability to meet the economic needs of its citizens. Mr. Linde is somewhat sympathetic to that argument. “I probably retain a smidgen of guilt over the crimes my country of birth has and continues to commit against the people of Cuba,” he explained.

But he is also proud to highlight a little-known facet of the constructive-engagement approach Canada has taken toward Cuba ever since the Diefenbaker government refused to sign on to Washington’s campaign of isolation.

“Ontario Holstein farmers were there at the beginning,” Mr. Linde said. “They deserve recognition.”

Source: The Globe and Mail


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