Pilsen farmer Terry Vinduska recently got a firsthand look at people in Latin America who have needs and aspirations “just like we do.”
He traveled to that part of the world earlier this month for a recent trade mission as a Kansas Corn Commission member and vice chairman of the U.S. Grains Council.
Vinduska said people in Latin America want American grain for business improvement and to improve the diets of the people.
From the standpoint here, the United States is losing $500 million annually in grain exports by not pursuing a trade agreement with a nation like Colombia, he said.
The reason the agreement isn’t pursued, he said, is because unions here are trying to force a similar union movement there.
But perhaps equally important to what happens politically, Vinduska found friendly, pro-American attitudes right from the beginning of the trip in the Dominican Republic.
“They are really struggling in the Dominican Republic,” Vinduska said. “There’s nothing like our middle class here.
“We talked with poultry producers there. They have to be grain importers (because they can’t produce enough grain there). U.S. grain is cheaper for them to buy than Argentine grain, and they can’t afford the higher cost.
“They badly need more infrastructure, more roads,” he added. “They are very progressive, very successful businessmen.”
Vinduska found the similar attitudes and talents in Santo Domingo.
“They were having street parades with different schools in them,” he said. “Five of us from our group were watching, and we were amazed at how friendly all of the people were. We didn’t feel like outsiders at all.”
The atmosphere changed dramatically when the Americans arrived in Bogota, Colombia, Vinduska said. The government there is at war with drug overlords, primarily providers of cocaine.
“There had been lots of people out, lots of activity around in the other countries, but in Bogota, there was almost nobody walking the streets,” he said. “There were armed guards at every store and in parking lots. There were bomb-sniffing dogs.
“We walked around some there, but it wasn’t entirely comfortable. It wasn’t safe to be out of the hotel after dark.”
He said the people from the higher elevations, where most of the cities are, are progressive, good business operators.
“They have poultry cooperatives, and do things much like here,” he said. “The drug lords rule the equatorial regions of the lower country.
“The poultry producers are moving their facilities to the coasts because roads are so poor it takes longer to move grain to the interior than it does to move it from our port at New Orleans.
“They need the same transportation points because they are trying to increase poultry exports to the European Union.
“They need our trade and our help. I found them to be very hard-working and entrepreneurial.”
Vinduska said his group spent one day in Panama, mostly at the new canal under guidance of the canal authority. He said the broadened waterway is going to help U.S. grain trade greatly.
Vinduska said he has sometimes sensed an attitude in the United States that the people in Latin America are slow and backward in their attitudes.
“But that definitely was not the case,” he said. “It was refreshing to see the difference between that and reality.”