By Daysi Valera
Old Havana is both a densely populated and heavily visited municipality which includes the only “Chinatown” in Cuba, though few Chinese still live there. Nonetheless, this barrio has a number of Chinese restaurants.
Next to these more expensive businesses are other more modest ones where batidos (fruit milk shakes), juices, and Creole cuisine are sold.
It had been a few months since I needed to go through this neighborhood and, unfortunately, I met with a very unpleasant site.
In the streets were a considerable number of elderly people scrounging for leftovers of food from the garbage or begging for money from tourists. All of these “golden agers” looked dirty and sick.
Although this is a common image in many countries of the Third World, Cuba for a long time had the luxury of not counting itself among them. This scene, however, has been returning to the island with the passage of time.
Right now in Old Havana there is an entire street where there are elderly people, the mentally ill, people who are injured, and amputees who lack basic economic sustenance and therefore resort to begging.
This is a critical situation taking into account that the Cuban population is aging and its youth are emigrating en masse.
I remember when homes for the elderly were established so that they could receive food and have a free roof over their head. Although these still exist, it seems that they don’t satisfy the needs of many individuals, who prefer to live precarious lives in the street.
I can’t understand why the government – despite having touted the graduation of many thousands of social workers a few years ago – does not include this group of senior citizens, which tends to increase, among its priorities and seek solutions to this obvious problem.