Old Havana’s Elderly

By Daysi Valera

Woman in Old Havana, photo: Caridad
Woman in Old Havana, photo: Caridad

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.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

3 thoughts on “Old Havana’s Elderly

  • Also, last today,

    Sister, We are all one Cuban Daysi:
    Whether u agree or disagree, the question remains, what are Cubans living in Cuba doing about this phenomena?
    The people for the most part are Afro Cuban, I know this for a fact. So i am saying that there is another issue here, other than being abandoned or living in group shacks (know this fact also) and that issue is racism? lets get honest neither Fidel, or the cuban adm can stop people from hating thier fellow “MARTI ONE CUBA” Cuban brother or sister., and it is my knowledge NOT my belief that this is not by accident nor is it the design of Fidel or the Adm. However, this is by design, all the way from Miami, coupled with those who left refusing to remember those they left behind.
    To this end..I am proud to have the name VILLAMIL! we never forget.


    So lets dialouge about this..i have jus treturned from Cuba, and yes what u have said is true. However rather than talk about the homeless ..LETS,BE ABOUT THE HOMELESS AND ELDERLY.

    What i chose to do while in Cuba. without asking..but by using my family influence (most Cubans my age know of Tomasa, Garcia Garcia and Felipe Garcia).

    i chose without asking..to share my resources. i went out and found the people, (as did the caravan).
    i was looking for and made sure that they had everyting they asked for other than a roof…
    i have made several assoc and a few i can call friends from my days as a child and a friend of thier children.. Some of WHO might i say . .abandoned thier elders by going to prison and /or leaving Cuba..So my sister..one might also ask…””WHERE IS FAMILY RESPONSIBILITY?

    i also saw , Antunez, the heralded Little mandela, who knows his story other than the jail time is a…

  • This is so sad, especially since these older people were there at the begining of the Revolution and its promise, to at this stage of their lives witness and live like this. Very sad.

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