Editor's Note: Our own Avery Davidson is currently in Cuba on an agricultural trade mission with Louisiana Congressman Ralph Abraham and others. Here are his thoughts on his second day in the country.
“There are more people living in cities than in rural areas.” “The recent drought nearly destroyed our crop.” One could attribute those quotes to a Louisiana farmer, but the source is much farther away. Juan José León Vega is the Official-Ambassador for the Ministry of Agriculture for the Republic of Cuba. He sounds like any other farmer: thankful for the blessings of Mother Nature and disappointed by the ignorance of city dwellers who do not know from where their food comes.
An older gentleman who fits the description of a Cuban elder: white hair, medium in stature and strong in presence, Vega is quick to point out that the farm from which he’s speaking produces quality milk from cows that are 5/8 Holstein and 3/8 Brahman and is a successful cooperative contributing to the food security of his proud nation. But Vega is not an ignorant man. He knows that the 1949 tractor that’s on that farm cannot continue to be the only tractor to serve 127 farmers. He knows that using rice varieties dating back to 1902 will not be as productive as the Clearfield rice technology to come out of LSU. Vega wants the U.S. trade embargo to come to an end.
What’s really interesting about this trip is that every singe American, all 20 of them, who is meeting with Cuban officials wants this trade embargo to end, as well. Arkansas Congressman Rick Crawford has a bill before the House that would extend credit to Cuba and open the door for agricultural products to begin flowing into the island nation. Crawford’s bill has only 25 cosponsors, including Louisiana Congressman Ralph Abraham, who represents the largest row crop district in the nation.
A stop at the Agricultural College in San José, Mayabeque shows the commitment to education of the Cuban people. Every student who successfully completes college prep curriculum in “high school” and successfully passes the admissions exams enters the university without having to pay tuition. In fact, students get free textbooks and a stipend upon which to live while they’re in school. The admission rate of those who complete the college prep part of their schooling and take the admissions exam is 72%. Not too shabby.
It’s no surprise that with such an educated youth there would be a thriving art scene. The F.A.C. is a club in every sense of the word. It has loud music. The people there imbibe alcohol, if they choose to do so. Young ladies and virile men engage walk and dance together. But what sets F.A.C. apart from a U.S. party is that there is art on every wall, be it photographic, video or painting. This is not a Cuban state sanctioned exhibit. This is the work of young people expressing their young emotions with the maturity of the American Depression Era.
The columns are impressive. The rooms extravagant. The residence of Ambassador Jeff DeLaurentis is believed to have been intended for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After all, a two story structure with an elevator would not be built for an able bodied person prior to the Cold War. It is here where Congressmen Abraham and Crawford stand on American soil in the heart of Cuba. Posing in front of a statue of the majestic bird which represents 50 states united, talk returns to the cooling heads prevailing in Cuba and the United States. It becomes clear that the end of the embargo is near.
It’s ignorance which divides Americans from Cubans; the same ignorance that has school children believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. If the same ignorance exists in two neighboring nations, isn’t it time for knowledge and understanding to bridge the 90 mile gap?