The Edmond Sun


April 1, 2014

Communism failing; Cuba benefits from Oklahoma wheat

OKLA. CITY — In recent decades, Paul Theroux has written a series of books detailing his travels by train throughout the world. In the “Old Patagonia Express” he detailed his trip from his home in Boston to the end of the South American continent at Tierra Del Fuego. That expedition took him through Perry and he wrote of his favorable impressions of that community.

But Theroux, who is now in his 70s and suffers from gout, indicated in his most recent work, “The  Last Train to Zona Verde,” that his travels may be coming to an end. It is possible that Theroux’s successor as a train-based travel writer will be Peter Millar, an Englishman who has written two books based on his experiences riding the rails.

His most recent work, “Slow Train to Guantanamo,” details his expedition by train from the Cuban capital of Havana to the American enclave of Guantanamo on that island nation. Millar, who reported from both Moscow and East Berlin when the communist  regimes that ruled both of those states were crumbling, writes of the inefficiencies and waste he encounters in the course of his Cuban travels and points out they are the result of an economic system that is designed to provide employment of all of the working age citizenry.

The author finds out that the display of goods in store windows in Cuba does not necessarily mean that they are available for sale and reports that he had a similar experience years ago when he sought to purchase items that were in store windows in the Soviet Union and East Germany.

Millar reminds us that the government of Fidel Castro, which imposed communism on Cuba in the early 1960s was forced to allow a small degree of private enterprise in the 1990s there when its main patron, the Soviet Union, imploded and could no longer support it economically.  

In recent years, the Castro regime has used tourism as a means to acquire foreign currency and there are now a series of small businesses that cater to foreign tourists that include taxis and what in the U.S. or Europe would be described as bed and breakfasts.  

Millar also writes of how some of the operators of those businesses have prospered, as have many of the Cubans who work in government hotels and receive tips in foreign currency. The government now allows private citizens to employ others and small businesses are now coming into existence as a result.

But while Cuba is definitely a nation in transition, Millar concludes that it is not likely that the regime  installed by Fidel Castro will fall or that a full-blown capitalist system will be put in place there in the near future.  

The American embargo on trade with Cuba — that was initially put in place during the Eisenhower Administration — remains in effect, but Millar writes of how some American firms have been granted the authority by the Obama Administration to sell their goods to the Cuban government.

The author concludes that the embargo will eventually be lifted. It is possible that some of the agricultural goods produced in Oklahoma will find a market in Cuba when the embargo finally ends. The George W. Bush Administration approved the sale of Oklahoma wheat to Cuba after that Caribbean nation was battered by a hurricane, and Mark Hodges, who headed the Oklahoma Wheat Commission at that time, reported that the Cubans were happy with the bread that was produced from that wheat.

The Cassidy Grain Company, which is based in Frederick in Tillman County in the wheat belt of  Southwestern Oklahoma, has the capacity to store 2,148,000 bushels of wheat and much of that wheat is transported by train to Houston and other ports where vessels could transport it to Cuba.

William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.

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