When you take an opportunity you find even more opportunities will open up. For instance my recent participation in the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Market Study Tour of Cuba aptly demonstrates this philosophy.
Before I went to Cuba, I was apart of the National Collegiate FFA and US Grains Council’s I-CAL program, which visited Panama and Colombia to study the implications of the then pending free trade agreements between the US and those countries.
Before that, I was a part of the first PAS State Officer Team to travel to the territory of Puerto Rico where we developed a relationship with Collegiate FFA members at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez.
Even before that I was heavily involved with the FFA and the 4-H organizations which exposed me to many of these opportunities and helped me to develop a skill set to progress forward with my professional development in agriculture.
Everything is connected, and if we are to progress as individuals and organizations then we must keep this in mind. My recent trip to Cuba was eye-opening as it built upon my prior experiences.
When I returned home from Panama and Colombia I remember being grateful for the “stuff” we have in the United States. I realized how much stuff we have in terms of iPhones, tractors, ability to afford to go to a Cardinals game. You name it and we have it.
After coming back from Cuba, I again was grateful for stuff but that was overshadowed by a sense of patriotism and gratitude for our rights.
As we drove through the streets of Havana with their beautiful old architecture, antique cars and hospitality there was also something absent. Government propaganda was everywhere but there were no visible signs of an opposition.
Churches were stripped down and many converted into museums. News sources were all government run. Freedom to assemble meant that you have supervision there watching you. The right to disagree seemed to be more of a felony.
It has been over half of a century since the Cuban revolution in which Castro overthrew the puppet Bautista regime. Not long after, the Castro administration seized US-held properties in Cuba, Kennedy signed in an embargo ceasing all US relations with Cuba and we lost track of a nation that is roughly as far away from Florida as the distance between Springfield and St. Louis. Needless to say relations are not the friendliest between the US and Cuba.
Let’s fast-forward several decades and we still have the same embargo against Cuba. Cuba has survived that time just as they have survived the collapse of the Soviet Union and they’ve even managed along without the US.
The problem is that Cuba still is repressive to the basic rights that every man, woman and child should expect – freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to petition, and the freedom of speech.
Additionally, the United States has lost a large potential market for our commodities such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, beef, dairy, etc. This isolation for the United States has done a disservice to the Cuban people who are blind to the freedoms we take for granted, and it has done a disservice to Americans who are losing out on a trade partner and those Americans who have friends and family in Cuba.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.” It would seem that he is right as we’ve stubbornly expected to get different results after a half century of the same failed embargo.
Open trade with Cuba is more than just trade with Cuba – it is trade with the entire Latin American region. When Cuba needs commodities they oftentimes resort to buying from Brazil. This is like being a salesman who refuses to sell to a neighbor. That neighbor then calls your competition and now your competition has a guaranteed market in your own neighborhood to steal away your other customers. Our embargo is hurting US farmers and we are keeping Cubans in the dark to the freedoms they too should have.
Again everything is connected. Just as I would not have had this opportunity had it not been for the blue corduroy jacket, we must realize that our embargo with Cuba means more than not having cigars. I encourage each and every one of you to do your own research and see for yourself the damage that the embargo has done to the US and the people of Cuba while preserving their dictator.
Thomas Marten of Raymond, Illinois was a 2012 IFB Cuba MST Participant.