Five Days Without Basic Freedoms

Prairie Gleanings

After spending five days in Cuba, I'm proud to be an American. This fourth, take some time to embrace the basic freedoms we so often take for granted.

Published on: July 3, 2012

Having returned from a five-day trip with the Illinois Farm Bureau to Cuba, I’m feeling quite thankful to be an American. Yeah, that’s right, it’s a patriotic blog the day before Independence Day.

Upon arrival in Havana, the group went to a nice restaurant near the waterfront. As we settled in, I happened to draw a seat next to the interpreter/tour leader, Jesús. He began asking me questions about why I chose journalism as my career. Metaphorically speaking, he may have well handed me a loaded gun and said “don’t shoot yourself.”

In the middle of this communist island, he wants me to explain why I became a journalist. As I rambled on about enjoying writing, reporting and photography, my brain kept screaming “don’t say freedom of speech.”

As my explanation wound down, he received a phone call on his cell phone. After a brief conversation in Spanish, he turned to me and said the call was about me. Specifically, it was about me being a journalist in Cuba and what my intentions were. Luckily, Tamara Nelsen, IFB’s senior director of commodities, explained that I would not be making any reports from Cuba. I wouldn’t be publishing anything until I was back in the U.S. (Hence why I did not blog from Cuba.)

Five Days Without Basic Freedoms

CUBA GROUP: The Illinois Farm Bureau Cuba Market Study group, along with our tour guides. Jesús is in the front row, second from the left (with a full beard and long hair).

Jesús seemed satisfied with the explanation and dinner resumed. My level of paranoia remained extremely high. For those who don’t know, Cuba has imprisoned the second most number of journalists after China.

To further exacerbate my fear, one of the farmers later told me that he tried to Facetime with his children in the hotel with his iPad. Within moments, security was four feet behind him, looking over his shoulder.

Returning home was so liberating. The moment the plane touched down in Miami (I guess technically the moment it entered U.S. airspace), we all regained our very basic rights of due process, freedom of speech, the right to vote and the freedom of assembly. It’s quite frightening to be without them.

During nearly all market study trips, the IFB group debriefs at some point at the hotel. In Cuba, the right of assembly doesn’t exist. Thus, even simple things such as a home Bible study are forbidden. Nelson wisely had us debrief and discuss the trip at the Miami airport.

Take some time between bottle rockets tomorrow and give this a little thought. Let’s say you do something stupid, like drink one too many “adult beverages” (one of my favorite Rod Stollisms) and begin shouting your hatred for our current president. You can wake up on July 5th and you’ll only have to fear how stupid you acted.

What I’m trying to say is it’s a great country, folks. Appreciate it. Take care of it. And, for the love of all things sacred, take pride in it. Go ahead, say it. I’m proud to be an American! Feels good doesn’t it?