Thomasville Times Enterprise

Local News

June 2, 2014

Parrish discusses Cuba trip

THOMASVILLE — Bob and Jinanne Parrish spent the first two weeks in February on a People to People Cultural Exchange trip to Cuba with 18 other Americans.  They shared their experiences with the Thomasville Kiwanis Club at a recent meeting at The Plaza Restaurant.

It is illegal for Americans to go to Cuba as tourists.  To go legally from the United States, one must be approved by the U. S. Department of State and under a license issued by the U. S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control.

A visa, issued by the Cuban government and a charter flight to and from Cuba, gets one there legally from America.  Cultural exchanges, academic, educational, scientific, and sports trips can be licensed by the Treasury Department with the consent of the Cuban government.

There are no scheduled flights from the U. S. to Cuba, hence the chartered roundtrip flights taken by the Parrishes.  Incidentally, from lift off to touch down, Miami to Jose’ Marti Airport, Havana, Cuba, is 40 minutes, they said.

The trip consisted of between 35-40 cultural exchanges with the Cuban people.  It was non-stop for two weeks, very strenuous, not a vacation, and covered the 780 miles- long island from end to end.

Participants had to sign an Affidavit of Participation, agreeing to participate in all scheduled activities and must keep a copy of the license with their passports for five years in order to prove that the trip was legal for them if questioned by U. S. government officials later..

The cultural exchanges included many dance groups, musical performances, art museums, two family visits in their homes, a senior citizens center, a nursing home, an organic farm, many children’s art and performance projects, a magnet school for high school musicians and a morning in an elementary school first grade classroom.

One of the highlights was an afternoon visit to a domino club to play dominoes with the Cuban members.  Baseball and dominoes are favorites of the Cuban people.  Many members of the group attended a night baseball game in Santiago de Cuba.  

A thrilling performance in an old, run-down 1950’s movie theater, was by the Compania Opera de la Calle, Opera in the Streets, in Havana.  They sang “Surely, He Hath Bourne Our Griefs” from Handel’s great oratorio, Messiah (1741), as one of their selections. The group had lunch with this company after the performance, as we did with several other performing groups and enjoyed discussions with them.

The Cuban Revolution under the Castro brothers started on July 26, 1953, unsuccessfully, at the Moncado Barracks, Santiago de Cuba, and was finally won on New Year’s Day, 1959, when Castro’s men entered Havana, and the President (Dictator), Fulgencio Batista, fled.

One highlight of the trip was staying in the Habana Libre Hotel in Havana.

This hotel was opened by Conrad Hilton on March 19, 1958, as the Havana Hilton, a 25-story classic example of 1950’s architecture.

Nine months later, it was commandeered by Castro’s troops as headquarters and Fidel Castro stayed in room 2324 for about six months as the new government began.  

Nationalization and confiscation of all property began early and Americans, including the Mafia, fled with only what they could carry.  Today, evidences of what they left are many old mansions, filled with multiple families and numbers of pre-1961 American automobiles and trucks, still filling the streets of Cuban towns.  To an old car lover, it is a wonderful sight to behold.

 The Bacardi family, of rum fame, had to leave everything and went to Puerto Rico.  The Cuban-American community of South Florida is made up of relatives of those who fled Cuba after the revolution.  Today, 90 percent of Cubans have family in the U.S.

Cell phones have been allowed since 2008 and there is very limited Internet availability now.

Religious restrictions have been removed, for the most part, and even some Communist Party members attend church. Both Catholic and Protestant churches are available for worshippers.

One of the most glaring problems in Cuba today is the almost total lack of consumer goods, according to the members of the group.

There is no manufacturing and the embargo keeps American goods from being available.  One example is the lack of plastic or wooden toilet seats and commode tank workings.

Only in the hotels did the group see commode seats and commodes that could be flushed without having to put water in the commode bowls with a bucket to flush them.

Doctors who only make $15 a month can make more driving a taxi if they can get a car.  Members saw men plowing using oxen teams in fields and three old tractors in sugar cane fields.

For the last 55 years, Cubans have known nothing but the revolution which remains strong today with “Viva Castro”, “Viva Raul”, and “Viva Che” on posters and billboards everywhere.

The group’s members said they never felt afraid or threatened, spending two weeks in a communist country, although they saw military personnel quite a bit.

The Cuban people were friendly, gracious, and were very proud to welcome them to their country even though they have very little money or belongings.

 

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