Viva La Revolution
Sam and Fidel discuss food and medicine.
Thursday, February 14, 2002
Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, returned from Cuba Feb. 8 with a painting by Cuban artist Aguedo Alonso and a cigar, both gifts from Fidel Castro. Farr hopes to donate the painting to a permanent collection at a state college.
He said he wouldn''t smoke the cigar.
"The last time I smoked a cigar was 10 years ago," he says. "It was a Castro cigar, and I turned green."
Over the weekend, Farr led a delegation of four Democratic members of Congress from California, vintners and farmers from California''s wine and rice industries, business people, and entertainer Carole King-part of a diplomatic effort to lift the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
It was Farr''s first trip to Cuba, and in a phone interview on Feb. 9, he said he is anxious to return.
"I don''t think I''ve even been somewhere where I want so badly to go back," he said.
The delegation visited the Latin American School of Medicine, which trains 4,000 students from all over the Americas. Farr met with two U.S. students.
"I asked them why they chose to attend the school," Farr says, "and they said ''our education is totally free, compared to our friends, who are going to college and med school in the U.S. and who are going to graduate with incredible debt.''"
After graduating, the two women planned to return to the states to work in poor areas.
"Castro jokes that he provides doctors to American communities," Farr says.
On the final night of the delegation''s stay, the group dined with Castro. It started at 9pm "with the president telling us what the Cuban experiment is all about," Farr says. Hors d''oeuvres started about 1am, and dinner-including bottles of California cabernet sauvignon and merlot-lasted until after 4am.
During the meal, Castro said that if financing were available, Cuba would buy a billion dollars'' worth of American food each year. According to a study done last month by the Cuba Policy Foundation, the direct cost of the embargo to California farmers in terms of lost trade is $98 million. The cost to ag-related industries in California is $287 million.
Prior to dinner, Castro pulled Farr aside.
"I told him how interested I was in this school, and I told him about my sister''s death in a rural hospital in Colombia," Farr says. His sister was 17 at the time. She came to visit Farr, a Peace Corps volunteer in Columbia, during her summer vacation. She fell off a horse. The rural hospital didn''t have the resources or the technology to save her.