Lorraine Parker and her husband, Tim, have traveled all over the world.
They’ve gone to Morocco, China, New Zealand, Alaska and Antarctica, to name a few places.
So when they received an email from National Geographic Expeditions in early 2016 regarding a nine-day trip to Cuba, the Sparta couple jumped on it.
“We just wanted to see Cuba how it is now,” said Lorraine Parker, a retired Appellate Division judge and current president of the Sussex County Community College Board of Trustees. “We wanted to see it before there is a McDonald’s on every corner.”
During the trip, the Parkers toured the country’s capital city of Havana, Cienfuegos on the southern coast and Trinidad, a town in the province of Sancti Spíritus.
Upon their arrival, the Parkers heard a lecture from a professor at the University of Havana regarding the architectural history of the capital.
“It gives you an entirely new perspective and sense of history and culture,” Lorraine Parker said. “The city is full of beautiful European architecture. People went to Europe for education and brought back the architecture with them.”
Parker said Havana is now run down and dilapidated due to neglect.
“It’s falling apart. It’s very sad,” Parker said. “It was interesting to see what happens when a country has been isolated for 60 years.”
In 1959, after Fidel Castro took over as the leader of Cuba and began increasing trade with the Soviet Union, nationalizing U.S.-owned properties and hiking taxes on American imports, the U.S. started reducing its trade with the country and in 1961 severed all diplomatic relations.
In the 1990s, when the Soviet Union pulled out of Cuba, the country’s trade fell apart and it was forced into organic farming due to the Russians taking back all the equipment, pesticides and fertilizers the country was using, Parker said.
“You see cars from the ’50s everywhere,” Parker said, adding that while the European model cars have broken down over the years, the American-made cars in the country are still running. “They have wonderful color. They don’t have gloss; they use house paint to paint them.”
Parker said all the people she met in Cuba were extremely nice to tourists and happy to see Americans.
“They really wanted to interact with us. We were able to get into the neighborhoods and find out what it is like on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
One of the more interesting aspects of her trip, Parker said, was learning about the country’s education system, which offers free education starting at age 3.
“All the schools are very localized,” Parker said. “They’re small, right there in the neighborhood.”
Parker said she was interested in the candor of residents when it came to the country’s economics.
“They acknowledged their failed economic system, that communism hasn’t worked,” she said, adding the country is moving more toward democratic socialism. “They’re trying to promote enterprise and private business,” she said.
Parker said she would like to go back to Cuba in five years or so to see how it has changed.
“There is a huge debate going on whether to rehabilitate or whether to start over with a modern city,” she said of Havana. “It would be interesting to see what happens.”
Joe Carlson, New Jersey Herald
May 25, 2016