by Tim Velde, Minnesota Farmers Union member

I had quite a contrast in surroundings earlier this year. After spending five exciting days in Springfield, Mass., on the policy committee for NFU’s 111th national convention,  a day later my wife and I were on our way to Havana, Cuba. We were on a “People to People” cultural exchange. Before traveling to Cuba, we met a group of 38 people from all over the United States in Miami for orientation and flew to Havana the next day. Although we were strictly controlled by a guide at all times, we did get a chance to see much of Havana and parts of rural Cuba.

In the cities, housing and infrastructure in general are run down and appear to be about to crumble, but the people seem to be happy. If you like cars from the 1940s and 1950s, they are everywhere and are still being used. When we got out in the countryside, it was like going back in time. We saw people working fields with oxen. A horse and cart seemed to be the way people and goods are moved.
Sugar cane was the main crop along with tobacco, rice, black beans and the poorest corn I have ever seen. They do not have access to fertilizer or anything for weed control. Almost all the harvesting is done by hand. 

One of the interesting things we saw was a small stationary harvester used for black beans. They are cut by hand, carried to the machine, and hand fed in. The government owns and controls everything and the people appear to work just hard enough to get by. One of the workers I talked to told me the government pretends to pay them and they pretend to work.

The people we talked to were anxious to learn about America and wish that trade could be opened. After the missile crisis, the Soviet Union did extensive development in Cuba but when they left in the 1980s, the economy fell apart. In the last couple years, the Chinese have started investing in Cuba.

It would be great if we could be the ones trading with them. Political pressure put the trade embargo in place and we need to put enough pressure on to let us trade with Cuba. They need our ag products and they are only 70 miles from our shores.

Editor’s note: NFU policy supports ending the embargo and establishing fair trade relations with Cuba.

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