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Franson returns from Cuba trip with new appreciation

Mary Franson (left) donated items from Caring Hands Dental Clinic and Ron's Warehouse to a Catholic church in Cuba during her trip there last month. (Contributed photo)

State Representative Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, took an unofficial trip to Cuba on Nov. 11-18.

It wasn't a vacation filled with beautiful sights and relaxing fun. Instead, Franson saw poverty-stricken neighborhoods, restaurants with no running water and filthy restrooms, people stuck in government jobs with no opportunity to better themselves, and an oppressive government that doesn't allow people to practice their true Christian faith.

Still, the trip — which she paid for by herself without any tax dollars — was well worth it, she said.

"I'm glad I went," Franson said. "It makes me love America even more."

Franson was part of a tour group of about 20 people, which included five legislators. It was arranged by Augsburg College.

"I'd never been to a Communist country before," Franson said. "I was excited to go."

To pay for the trip, Franson took a part-time job waitressing at Herby's in Carlos.

The tour, led by government officials, was filled with propaganda and sterile talking points, Franson said.

"When we had the chance to talk to the Cuban people themselves, everything wasn't as simple as the propaganda they were feeding us," she said.

The people, for instance, told her that the Cuban government was keeping a close eye on them in public places. "One woman was sent to prison four times for speaking out against the government," she said.

When the group toured a medical school, they were not allowed to visit the dorms or classrooms. They were only allowed to speak to a select few students.

Franson said she and a few others broke away from the tour and were able to do something that was a highlight of the trip: giving away children's toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss donated by the Caring Hands Dental Clinic in Alexandria.

She also gave away coloring books, crayons, hair ties, and Dum-Dum suckers from Ron's Warehouse in Alexandria.

She gave the supplies to children, taxi drivers and others who very much appreciated the gesture.

"They don't have those kinds of things in their stores," she said. "No one can afford them."

One part of the tour took the group to a tobacco-cigar factory. Franson described it as a sweatshop, with workers operating elbow-to-elbow with only a small fan blowing in the heat.

Franson said that the Cuban people make only $20 a month. Although government housing is provided for free and they have free health care, free education, and a food allowance, there's a catch. The housing is dilapidated and people can't afford to buy extra items.

"The government says everything is free but nothing is included," Franson said.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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